Tang Ying (1682-1756) was undoubtedly the most innovative and talented presence in China’s porcelain industry during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). His background appears unglamorous at first: a descendant of a bondservant and belonging to one of the three Banners directly under the control of the emperor. However, this upbringing allowed him privileged access to the Imperial collection of porcelains, paintings and decorative objects.
At the age of sixteen Tang started his career at the Neiwufu (Imperial Household Department) in the Forbidden City, Beijing. The palace presented him with the opportunity to study its collections, which laid the foundation for his future endeavours. He combined classical shapes and treasured types with developments in porcelain production to produce wares that were both innovative and steeped in tradition – to the delight of the emperors he served from 1726 until the time of his death, Yongzheng (r. 1723-35) and Qianlong (r. 1736-95).
Tang can be credited with the introduction of various new porcelain eccentricities such as revolving vessels and trompe l’oeil porcelains. Such vessels were created to satisfy the Qianlong Emperor’s taste for the novel and imperial records show Qianlong habitually asked Tang to design special pieces for him.
Tang Ying was appointed to the Jingdezhen factory in 1726, then started his long and illustrious career at Jingdezhen which lasted 25 years under the Yongzheng and Qianlong reigns. His experience and insight into the problems of porcelain production allowed him to make essential changes in the structure of the factory. Under his guidance, both technical improvement and the artistic perfection were achieved. For a further discussion on Tang Ying, cf. Peter Y.K. Lam, ‘Tang Ying (1682-1756): The Imperial Factory Superintendent at Jingdezhen’, Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol.63, 1998-9, p.65, where the author identified a number of Tang’s work in private and public collections worldwide.