Porcelain vase on display in the Shanghai Museum.

Porcelain vase on display in the Shanghai Museum.

The Shanghai Museum is so expansive that it’s not to be taken in and a drive-by visit… or to be done justice by a single blogpost.

This second and final Museum post visits its dazzling collection of Chinese porcelain, and the intricately decorated costumes of China’s national minorities.

 

Porcelain plate on display in the Shanghai Museum.

Porcelain plate on display in the Shanghai Museum.

 

PORCELAIN GALLERY

Porcelain was invented in China around two thousand years ago.  It’s made by firing clay mixtures to create a light but strong ceramic which lends itself to decorative art.

This early porcelain, known as celadon, was jade green to bluish in color.  Within a couple of centuries, the technique had been refined to produce a translucent porcelain.

Porcelain vase on display in the Shanghai Museum.

Porcelain vase on display in the Shanghai Museum.

During the European Middle Ages, the popularity of tea drinking in China spurred the production of porcelain tea ware.   This, in turn, increased exports via the northern Silk Road and the southern Chama Road.  Porcelain vessels were highly valued in the Muslim world.

Porcelain figurine on display in the Shanghai Museum.

Porcelain figurine on display in the Shanghai Museum.

 

It is also during this period that harder, white porcelain was introduced.

 

A Muslim visitor wrote at the time that, “They have in China a very fine clay with which they make vases which are as transparent as glass; water is seen through them. ”

 

 

Porcelain vase on display in the Shanghai Museum.

Porcelain vase on display in the Shanghai Museum.

The quality of kaolin deposits around the southeastern town of Jingdezhen made its porcelain most highly prized.

Around the turn of the first millennium, Jingdezhen was designated as the imperial production center, a role which it retained for nearly 900 years.

It was here that blue porcelain was first produced by adding cobalt.   This blue and white porcelain was highly prized in the Muslim world.

By the 1400’s, technical innovation made possible the addition of manganese, which prevented cobalt from bleeding and distorting fine artwork during kiln firing.

 

Porcelain plate on display in the Shanghai Museum.

Porcelain plate on display in the Shanghai Museum.

 

White porcelain remained in use for ritualistic and religious purposes, and by the 1600’s seafaring merchants were bringing it to Europe, where the French called it “blanc de Chine.”

When the Dutch auctioned thousands of Ming porcelain pieces captured from Portuguese cargo ships, it ignited a porcelain mania in Europe.  These pieces were so highly prized that they became known as “white gold.”  Wealthy Europeans and Americans began ordering personalized porcelain art featuring designs including portraits and coats of arms.

Although Europeans had learned to make porcelain by the 1700’s, Chinese porcelain remained recognized for its higher quality and relatively lower cost.

 

MINORITIES GALLERY

Costume on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

Costume on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

The museum also houses the Minorities Gallery, where traditional costumes in a diverse array of designs and colors are on display.

 

Costume on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

Costume on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

 

While more than 90% of the nation’s population are Han Chinese, China officially recognizes 55 ethnic minorities.

 

They are concentrated largely – although not exclusively – in the west and north, and include Mongol, Turkic, and Tibetan peoples.  Many of these are readily distinguishable from each other  by their facial features.

 

Costume on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

Costume on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

Ethnic minorities are represented in China’s national Congress as well in local government.

The Chinese  Constitution not only guarantees equal rights to all ethnic groups, but charges the government with promoting their economic and cultural development.

 

Costume on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

Costume on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

 

The result is a sort of affirmative action marked by preferential economic development aid, preferred access to higher education, and an exemption from the 35-year old “one-child” restriction.

 

Costume on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

Costume on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

Some minorities even live in “ethnic autonomous areas” which guarantee freedom to use their languages and maintain their cultural and social customs.

 

Shoulder bag on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

Shoulder bag on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

 

While the Museum exhibition includes, textiles, embroideries, metal and lacquer wares, sculpture, pottery, vessels plaited from cane and bamboo, and wooden masks, it’s the costumes which tug at the visitor most compellingly.

 

Next up:  “Human Faces Of Shanghai”

 

See my earlier posts from “21 Days In China”:

 

Advertisements