Contemporary Jingdezhen porcelain owes its quality and appearance to generations of experimentation and adaptation, as well as to the retention of what is special and beautiful from earlier periods. This combination of tradition and innovation characterizes Jingdezhen porcelain. While retaining traditional techniques and patterns is important to the art of Jingdezhen porcelain, it is especially important to a specific class of Jingdezhen porcelain called “fanggu.”
Fanggu 仿古, meaning “in the old style” refers to the deliberate reproduction of an old kind of glaze color, porcelain/glaze recipe, shape, pattern, production process. It can be a reproduction of any or all of these aspects. Fanggu has its origins in the nostalgia felt by emperors for the ceramic ware of earlier dynasties, and is also experiencing renewed popularity among ceramic art enthusiasts and tea ware collectors.
Origins of Fanggu
Fanggu popularity often coincides with economic boom periods. Because of the difficulty of reproducing earlier styles using antiquated techniques and materials, the production process of fanggu is both more difficult and more expensive than other forms.
The practice of fanggu production began during the Song Dynasty, but it would achieve its peak in quantity in later periods.
Ming Dynasty: During the Ming Dynasty, the guanyao (the Emperor’s official kiln), was instructed to reproduce the wares of the Song dynasty’s 5 major kilns, with a special focus on reproducing the glazes, including the later Song Dynasty’s own fanggu reproduction of earlier Song Dynasty glazes. The 5 famous kilns whose wares were reproduced were the Guan Kiln, Ru Kiln, Ge Kiln, Ding Kiln and Jun Kiln.
Qing Dynasty (Kangqian period): The peak of fanggu popularity was during the Kangqian period of the Qing Dynasty. This was a period of harmony, prosperity and continued development. The Emperor established an official office in Jingdezhen to manage porcelain production. The title of the head of this office was “Du taoguan,” and it was his job to manage production of all porcelain used by the Royal Family. The Jingdezhen kilns were instructed to produce more fanggu covering many earlier varieties of porcelain, such as jihong glazed porcelain (a style of dark red glaze from the early Ming Dynasty). Another kind of red was produced accidentally during this period when failing to reproduce jihong glaze. The new red glaze was called langhong. Langhong, a new kind of porcelain glaze at this time would later be reproduced as Fanggu. Song Dynasty styles were also reproduced, including ruyao (ru kiln). So exquisite and refined was the fanggu produced by the official kiln that it sometimes surpassed the beauty of the original.
Republic of China: The republican period was a period of turmoil and decline, especially in comparison to the Kangqian period. This was also evident in fanggu production which witnessed a degeneration of fanggu to producing fakes or knock-offs of original antiques to fool customers.
People’s Republic of China 1950s: Zhou Enlai issued directives for the reopening of fanggu production to encourage a rebirth of traditional techniques originating from these earlier periods and kilns.
PRC, 1980s: The Jingdezhen government named fanggu production as a government supported project. The government supported a team of researchers and ceramic masters to study the surviving examples of master works from previous dynasties. Production of traditional techniques began to revive following the beginning of the opening and reforming of China.
Fanggu, although less common than other forms, is enjoying a renaissance as the new fanggu artists perfect their ancient techniques, styles and processes. mud and leaves carries several fanggu lines, included under the sections: Jingdezhen Ruyao, and Fanggu Special Collection. The work of Lee Shanming, reproduces the color, texture and crackled appearance of Ruyao from the Song Dynasty. Our white porcelain studio in Jingdezhen has a workshop devoted to the manufacturing of fanggu white porcelain using ancient glazes, techniques and styles reproducing styles from the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
As modern techniques, materials and machines become more common in the ceramic industry, fanggu remains one of the strongest links to the ancient art of Chinese porcelain and to the golden age of Imperial China. Aside from the original pieces kept in a few private collections and museums, fanggu pieces are the only examples of these ancient techniques and styles. The demands in time, skill and materials make fanggu more costly and precious than other contemporary Jingdezhen pieces.