Organized Panel Session
Zhangzhou ceramics, coarsely potted with thick glaze and sandy feet, were mass-produced in southern Fujian during the late Ming and early Qing periods. Though not well received by Chinese connoisseurs, Zhangzhou porcelains gained popularity abroad and circulated widely in Southeast Asian markets. Focusing on the Zhangzhou ware exported to Indonesia in the Ming era, my paper examines a group of large red-green polychrome dishes that feature patterns of vegetation, landscape, mythical creatures, and Chinese human figures and written characters. While appropriating auspicious motifs and classical composition from contemporaneous works from private kilns in Jingdezhen, Zhangzhou potters also created unique and time-efficient decorative vocabulary for export products. Their vibrant painting on distinctive polychrome dishes attracted overseas patrons who in turn shaped the freehand style of the trade pieces. Of the designs that are unique to Zhangzhou kilns, the so-called “split pagoda” pattern is especially intriguing. I contend that such decoration blends the image of a Daoist-style paradise with traditional scholarly subjects to portray an idealist world that is not limited to one singular interpretation. The ambiguity of this decoration, instead of hindering its marketability, gave it higher acceptability among foreign consumers who might not have been fully literate in reading the symbolism behind Chinese decorative motifs. By analyzing dishes with similar “split pagoda” decorations, I show that Zhangzhou porcelains were not merely affordable substitutes for more refined Jingdezhen porcelains, but also appealed to sophisticated buyers seeking something vigorous and refreshing.