Smashing A Myth Instead Of A Dish

I advised here not to listen to “EXPERTS”, at least not too seriously until you do a little research yourself as well as seeking further opinions from auctioneers, dealers, museums and collectors.

It is even more important you educate yourself in light of the current situation with Christebys

A common myth told by many “EXPERTS” is that:

“Any imperial porcelain with a flaw, glaze imperfection or slight warp was rejected & smashed.”

Tung Wu is author of Tales from the Land of Dragons: 1,000 Years of Chinese Painting. He has been at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts since 1971. He is currently the curator of Asian art.

Meet Tung Wu, he has been at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts since 1971. He is currently the curator of Asian art.

Tung Wu said “The court-commissioned porcelains, so-called Imperial porcelain, are of the highest quality. The potters would throw out anything with imperfections and submit only perfect ones to the court. Therefore, when you say it’s court porcelain, that implies quality and rarity, and therefore high value.”

“When I acquire an artwork for the museum, I always consider five key issues: its quality, its authenticity, its rarity, its historical, cultural and religious significance, and how it would fit in our permanent collection. If the answers are thumbs up, then I’ll recommend the artwork to the museum director and deputy director for approval”.

Mr Wu is not the only “EXPERT” that still believes in this archaic myth, it is pretty common in the trade.

I hope I do not seem to be too harsh on Mr Wu, I am simply trying to highlight how dangerous one persons “EXPERT” opinion can be, the thought of imperial porcelain being passed by or rubbished because of an antiquated belief is quite disconcerting. If you are passionate about your subject surely you would be well read and keep up on current research and recent publications that shine new light on Chinese antique porcelain.

This archaic myth never did sit well with me, i remember reading a long time ago how expensive it was to actually produce porcelain and the sheer numbers required on an annual basis for the Forbidden City were huge, so it made no sense to smash items that were relatively fine. (Book:Misadventures in Collecting Chinese Antiques)

The Forbidden City covers an area of about 72 hectares with a total floor space of approximately 150,000 square meters. It consists of 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 buildings and 8,704 rooms.

Christies, Sothebys regularly sell imperial porcelain with minor imperfections – See example below, many more can be found in old auction catalogues.


Price Realized $712,479

Sale Information Sale 8008, 26 April 1999, Hong Kong

The vase is finely and densely enamelled to the globular body with four floral medallions each containing a central hydrangea spray with scrolling leaves surrounded by five smaller chrysanthemum heads, the sides are decorated with scrolling leaves issuing flower-heads, the base with crested waves crashing against upright rockwork, the tapering shoulders with interlacing ruyi-heads below a band containing detached floral sprays in profile, the tall, straight neck enamelled with further floral sprays paired with the Eight Buddhist Emblems, all below a frieze at the mouth decorated with wan emblems tied with ribbons, glaze imperfection on rim infilled
20 1/2 in. (51 cm.) high, box

After reading similar statements over the years this one from PYK Lam’s essay in ‘Shimmering Colors’ finalized the argument once and for all for me.

In the early Qing dynasty following the practice under the late Ming period, rejected items and misfired pieces in the imperial order were not destroyed or smashed as most experts think, but were kept in the factory depot. It was only after Ting Yang assumed duty in Jingdezhen in the 6th year of Yongzheng (1728) that these rejects were sent to Beijing together with the good pieces, so that they could be sold in the capital or bestowed as gifts by the emperor. Then in 1742, the Qianlong Emperor issued an edict to Tang Ying ordering him to sell the rejects locally instead of taking the trouble of sending them to Beijing. Since then this had been the general rule, except pieces of imperial yellow colour which were reserved exclusively for use of the imperial household. This is the reason why these reject pieces, including test pieces discussed above are to be found outside the palace complex.

Tang Ying retired in 1756 and passed away in the latter half of that year. He was the last bannerman or bond servant to occupy a significant role in the Imperial Porcelain Factory. In the following decade or so, the standard of the imperial ware coming from Jingdezhen could still be maintained, as Laoge, the faithful resident foreman trained by Tang Ying was still looking after the management and routing running of the Imperial Factory. But immediately following the retirement of Laoge due to deteriorating health in the 33rd year of Qianlong (1768), corruption, mismanagement and stealing were found at all levels at the Jiujian Custom Office and in Jingdezhen.


Chinese Antique Valuations And Appraisals

Do you own a piece of Chinese porcelain or an oriental work of art that you would like to know more about, such as age, history and value?

Then you should really consider using our Chinese Antique Valuation Service as the last thing you want to do is risk under selling the piece due to lack of knowledge or ill gotten advice.