The Historical Popularity of Chinese Porcelain

April 26, 2017

The wide array of ceramics and Chinese porcelains that made their way to George Washington‘s residence at Mount Vernon were a testament not only to his own personal taste but also reflected a popular fashion among the American elite.

Mount Vernon.org says, George Washington received his first shipment of porcelains from England in 1758 from a London merchant named Richard Washington. Although the journey across the Atlantic was often unforgiving for fragile ceramics, Washington happily reported that he received his order “without any breakage.”

Chinese porcelain originated in the Shang Dynasty (16th century BC). Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province is a well-known Chinese city where porcelain has been an important production center in China since the early Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD).

From China, caravans carried popular Chinese porcelains west: ceramic lusterware, lacquerware – snow-white vases, bowls, glasses, and dishes with sophisticated patterns. It was solely the Chinese who knew the secret of making the thinnest and resonant porcelain, making it very expensive in European markets. – Silk Road Encyclopedia.com and Gotheborg.com

This hunger for Chinese products like porcelain, while the Chinese found little in the West to buy, led to the Opium Wars, which Britain and France started and won to force China to level the trade imbalance.

After the Opium Wars, China sold the West silk, porcelain and tea while the West sold the Chinese opium.


Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) vase sells at Auction for $21.6 million.


Sotheby’s Masterpieces of Qing Dynasty Imperial Porcelain (1644 – 1912)

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Living with Disabilities in China

March 8, 2017

Facts and Details.com reports, “China is home to the world’s largest disabled population. There are 83 million disabled people in China, with a million in Beijing alone.” No mention of the fact that China also has the largest population in the world.  For a comparison, in the United States, there are about 48.9-million people with a disability. China has more than 1.3-billion people. The U.S. has about 315-million.

After Mao’s Cultural Revolution, China’s education system had to be rebuilt, and in the late 1990s, teams of Chinese teachers traveled to the United States to learn from America’s public schools and teachers. What they learned, they took home to Shanghai and more than a decade later Shanghai earned 1st place in the international PISA test thanks, in part, from what was learned studying America’s public schools.

China never had a public education system for everyone until after Mao, and the job isn’t done yet. China still has work to do to provide a quality education for all children.

For instance, the art displayed in this post comes from deaf artists, who are graduates of the Shandong Provincial Rehabilitation and Career School, an institute in China that trains young Chinese with disabilities.

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In 1949, Mao Zedong launched the People’s Republic of China and ruled with an iron fist for almost three decades. During Mao’s time, there was almost no free artistic expression in China unless the art served the propaganda needs of the state.

Today, that has changed.

After Deng Xiaoping opened China to a global market economy, the post Mao generation was introduced to Western art and theory.

It wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s that art from China started to emerge.

3-disabilitiesThe photos in this post are presented with permission from “Embracing the Uncarved Wood, Sculptural Reliefs from Shandong, China“, which was made possible by a generous grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and with assistance from the Office of the Provost of Franklin & Marshall College. ISBN: 978-0-910626-04-0

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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A Short History of China: part 4 of 6

January 11, 2017

Before moving on with China’s history in the 20th century, it’s important to understand that China has a rich and long history of the arts: for instance, literature, poetry, painting, opera, and music. China, after all invented the printing press during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 906 AD) and paper in 105 AD. This history reaches back thousands of years, from the earliest recorded dynastic court archives to fiction novels from the Ming Dynasty published to entertain the masses of literate Chinese.

For a comparison with European civilization, the printing press in the West wasn’t invented until after 1300 AD, centuries after China, and it’s possible that the west stole the technology for the printing press from China just like the British Empire stole the secrets of growing and brewing tea from China.

For literature, there are the four Chinese classics: “Outlaws of the Marsh” (set in the Sung Dynasty, 960 – 1279 AD), “Romance of the Three Kingdom” (set during the end of the Han Dynasty, BC 206 – 220 AD), Journey to the West, and The Dream of the Red Chamber (China’s Romeo and Juliet set in the 18th century in the middle of the Qing Dynasty).

Traditional Chinese Poetry is similar to Western poetry.  Lines in Chinese poetry may have a fixed number of syllables and rhyme was required, so ancient Chinese poetry resembles traditional English verse and is not at all like the free verse in today’s Western culture.

Mao Zedong was more than just a revolutionary and the leader of China from 1949 to 1976.  He was complex man who was also a poet. Anyone who studies all of Mao’s life instead of relying on his last decade would understand that he cared deeply about the common people. In addition, Mao is responsible for ridding China of illegal drugs like opium and cocaine, liberating women when he announced they were equal to men, and his health reforms almost doubled the average lifespan before he died.

Opera has a long history in China. To learn more, I suggest: Chinese Opera and Mao Wei Tao, China’s Living Treasure, and The Mother of Chinese Operas.

For brush painting (with a 6,000 year history) and calligraphy, I recommend: Gongbi Style Chinese Brush Painting, and Caressing nature with a long handled brush.

Last, there is China’s music. For instance, the Chinese mouth organ dates back to the Zhou Dynasty (BC 1111-222), and has been found in Han Dynasty tombs. Then there are the 2,553 year-old chimes of Marquis Yi.

Continued in Part 5 on January 17, 2017 or return to Part 4

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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China’s Golden Age of Verse

December 13, 2016

The Golden Age of Poetry in China was during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 906 AD).  One book of Chinese Love Poetry edited by Jane Portal (© 2004) was published by Barnes & Noble Books (ISBN 0-7607-4833-0).

Most people outside of China don’t think of love poems when they think of China. However, there has to be a reason for more than 1.3 billion people, other than the Great Wall of China, the Pacific Ocean and the Himalayan Mountains that helped shelter China from global wars and invasions that rocked the rest of the world for centuries until the West invaded China during the 19th century Opium Wars to force, if possible, a different set of values on China’s collective culture.

For poetry lovers, China’s love poetry imparts a sense of the private passion that beats in the Chinese heart. The three arts of poetry, calligraphy and painting, the Triple Excellence, are represented on the pages of the book Jane Portal edited.

As you can see, the Chinese are a passionate people; they just don’t dramatize these passions publicly as many Westerners do.

The following poem by Du Mu (803 – 852 AD) is an English translation.

Deeply in love, but tonight
we seem to be passionless;
I just feel, before our last cup of wine
a smile will not come.
The wax candle has sympathy ­­–
weeps at our separation:
Its tears for us keep rolling down
till day breaks.

Discover Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor, who ruled during the Tang Dyansty.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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China’s Queen of the Golden Voice

December 7, 2016

Jingyun Dagu is a form of Chinese opera where stories are often sung in a Beijing dialect accompanied by a drum along with one or two other musical instruments.

The focus is on the singing that depicts stories in short episodes.

Dagu was first popular near the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

One super star of Dagu was Luo Yusheng, who was born in 1914, and died at 89 in 2002. Her stage name was Xiao Caiwu. She studied under Su Huanting at the age of nine in order to play Laosheng (old man) roles in Peking Opera. At 14, she gave performances in singing without musical accompaniment in Nanjing, before she formally switched to Jingyun Dagu at the age of 17.

In 1934, Luo Yusheng studied at the Liu School of Jingyun Dagu (storytelling in Beijing dialect while beating a drum, accompanied by two or three persons who play three-stringed instruments).

At one time she was well known by most of China, and her fans called her the Queen of the Golden Voice.

After the PRC was founded in 1949, Dagu singers were regarded as people’s artists or actors, who sang traditional stories and new operas with themes reflecting contemporary life. For instance, patriotic Communist stories like Glorious Journey, Red Flag Over Mount Everest, and Patriotism and Roaring Waves.

The singer/drummer is often accompanied by the Sihu, a four-stringed instrument similar to an Erhu, and Pipa (lute) in addition to three-stringed lutes and wooden clappers.

Discover Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Kung Fu Cricket Mania

November 30, 2016

The first time I read about China’s singing crickets was in “Empress Orchid” by Anchee Min.  Retired concubines spent time carving gourds where these crickets lived. The crickets entertained empresses, emperors, and princes.

Then I learned about China’s fighting critics from a comment left on this Blog, and there was a link included.

While writing this post, I Googled the subject. In Gardening4us.com, Catherine Dougherty says, “Cricket culture in China dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618 – 906 AD).

“It was during this time the crickets first became respected for their powerful ability to ‘sing’ and a cult formed to capture and cage them. And in the Sung Dynasty (960 – 1276 AD)… cricket fighting became popular.”

The Chinese consider the cricket to be a metaphor for summer and courage. Pacific Pest Inc. says, “Crickets are popular pets and are considered good luck in some countries; in China, crickets are sometimes kept in cages, and various species of crickets are a part of people’s diets … and are considered delicacies of high cuisine in places like Mexico and China.”

Soon, the United States may be added to this list, because Exo, a U.S. company, is producing protein bars from cricket flower. “After cleaning the crickets, we dry them to remove the moisture and mill them into fine flour. The result is slightly nutty tasting flour that is high in protein and micronutrients.”

From Home Made in China, we learn “Summer used to mean picking berries in the yard and making jam, canning green beans, going to the farmer’s market, BBQs, lawn mowing, hiking, swimming. Now my whole family looks forward to the arrival of singing crickets.”

Discover Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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An Art Form that started in China more than 6,000 years ago

November 22, 2016

Chinese brush painting developed over a period of more than six thousand years; landscape painting was established by the 4th century, and figure painting developed beyond religious themes during the Song Dynasty (960 – 1127 AD) starting in the 10th century.

Another style is flower-and-bird painting, which became independent of other Chinese brush art around the 9th century. This gradually developed into two different styles. Asia Art.net

One famous 20th century Chinese brush-painting artist was Chen Zhifo (1896 – 1962), who was born to an educated family.  At 23, he went to Japan to learn patterns that later influenced his painting style.

Chen would become a renowned painter in the early 20th century. His artistic career started in design, patterns and other arts. When he started Gongbi style flower-and-bird painting, he was almost 40, and he revived the declining tradition of Gongbi. To discover how successful Chen has been, Christies.com sold one of his paintings for USD$242,400.

When Chen started painting, he usually sketched his subjects then went through many drafts modifying them before applying colors as he focused on the design of branches, leaves and birds to portray his subjects.

Discover Anna May Wong, the woman that died a thousand times.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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