Over 400 pieces or sets of Dehua white porcelain (德化白瓷) are on display in the National Museum of China in Beijing, with the exhibition running from Aug 26 for three months.
Dehua white porcelain is famous for its pure white color. According to Chen Chao, an artist dedicated to porcelain research, Dehua porcelain is extraordinarily pure and white because the kaolin (高岭土) in Dehua county in Fujian has a low percentage of iron, making the porcelain stainless (无瑕的) like white jade, earning it the French name “Blanc de Chine”, or “white from China”.
Sitting in Quanzhou city, where the ancient Maritime Silk Road started, Dehua white porcelain has sold like hotcakes at home and abroad since the Song Dynasty (960-1279). In 2006, Dehua white porcelain was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage.
Despite the past glories, Dehua craftsmen (工匠) never stop refining (精进) their skills. One impressive skill is “the eggshell technique” (薄胎技艺).
The eggshell technique in Dehua dates back to the Ming Dynasty. With the technique improved by generations of craftsmen, today’s eggshell porcelain can be made as thin as paper and gauze (薄纱).
Standing before an artwork named “Paper” at the exhibition, many of the attendees wondered how it could be made from porcelain. “First, a layer of kaolin is applied to sheets of paper. Then, the paper is heated in a kiln (窑) for several days until it turns into ashes (灰). Finally, what’s left is kaolin. This is how the artwork was made,” explained Chen.
However, this is much easier said than done. Careful attention is given to make sure the clay (黏土) stays the same as when it was sent to the kiln.
“The temperature and formula (配方) of the clay are key. Every component (成分) in the clay has its function,” said Su Xianzhong, the artist who created Paper. “The failure rate is extremely high, so every work consumes the craftsman’s time and energy.” He added that even a small artwork like Paper needs continuous focus for a whole week.
Chen said that the refined eggshell technique is just one of the achievements that Chinese porcelain craftsmen have made on the long path of innovation.
“By combining traditional Chinese artistic skills with modern disciplines (学科) like material science and humanities, Blanc de Chine will continue to enhance the cultural confidence of the Chinese people as they create even more outstanding works,” said Chen.