Staff Research

Ming Princes and Porcelain: The Porcelain Production and Consumption of Princely Households in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)


WAN Chui Ki Maggie




RGC General Research Fund 14609018

This project is an investigation of the porcelain production and consumption of princely households during the Ming dynasty, especially in the periods of interregnum (mid-15th century) and late Ming (16th century to early 17th century), by examining porcelain wares associated with Ming princes in totality and comparing them with the latest archaeological findings from the imperial and private kiln sites in Jingdezhen and pieces in local and overseas collections. Fanwang藩王, as imperial princes enfeoffed with designated land throughout the empire’s provinces, have been considered key players in the development of art and culture in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Among their material remains, porcelain was one of the types that are the most abundant and clearly display their interaction with the imperial court and the ordinary people. In the past decades, large quantities of porcelain shards and wares associated with the fanwang (or princes) and their households are found through excavation of palace sites and princely tombs and identification of wares in museum collections. These porcelain shards and wares have, thus far, not been put together and systematically studied. The aims of the project are threefold: First, it aims at establishing an overall picture of the porcelain consumption of princely households by conducting a comparative study of porcelain excavated from princely palaces and tombs in provinces throughout the Ming dynasty. Second, it will explore the princes’ involvement in the imperial porcelain production in the interregnum period by examining the latest excavated materials from sites of the imperial factory at Jingdezhen and comparing them with the database of Ming princes’ porcelain built up by the proposed project. Third, the project will investigate the role of Ming princes in facilitating the exchange of design and consumption practice of and taste for porcelain between the imperial court and the ordinary people, by studying the development of polychrome enamelled porcelain (some with gold foils) in late Ming times. The porcelain concerned was confined to the court in the 15th century, but became popular among princely households shortly after that, and began to be produced in considerable quantities by private kilns from the mid-16th century onwards. How princes who had access to such confined wares contributed to their mass production for domestic and export markets will serve as a way of assessing the status of Ming princes in the social and cultural realms of Ming society.