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Swatow porcelain gets its name after its production place in Zhangzow (Swatow) which is located in the southeastern part of China in the Kwantung district. The name was given by the Chinese traders themselves. There are some opinions stating that blue and white porcelain of this type was cultivated privately by certain individuals from Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong in the early days of its production. According to the Dutch East India Company, the Chincheuw River is the original area for the production of this type of porcelain. The Chincheuw River means ‘Fukien Waters’. Among the few ports found in the area are Chang-Chou, Ch’uan-Chou and along the islands of Quemoy and Amoy.

The location of its combustion stove or known as the kiln site is not clearly stated although researchers have confirmed that this porcelain was not produced in Swatow and the surrounding area. Swatow was first produced from the middle of the 16th century until the end of the Ming Dynasty. India, Japan and the Indonesian Archipelago are Swatow's porcelain export areas due to its production location in the eastern part of China. The attractive porcelain design that features realistic decorative motifs as well as done spontaneously has made it very famous and made it a material in high demand in the foreign market. As a detail, the characteristics of Swatow porcelain are that it is large in size, rough and there are traces of dirt on the plates or bowls in its production. Typically, Swatow porcelain is in the form of bowls and jugs, is dull blue glazed, and there is sand attached to the base or bottom. Among the decorative motifs found in Swatow porcelain are pictures of crabs, rhinos, deer, ducks, lobsters, dragons, phoenixes (fe’ng-huang) and even scenery.

There are also elements of western influence in the decorative patterns especially from the decorative aspect such as pictures of European ships from the Portuguese and the Dutch. In addition, elements of Islamic influence are highlighted in the production of porcelain for export to the eastern market such as the writing of Quranic verses on the outside and inside of Swatow's porcelain body. Due to the fact that the production of porcelain is diversified with the elements of other countries, it has made this porcelain in encouraging demand in foreign markets. The decline of Swatow's porcelain production coincided with the fall of the Ming dynasty in the 17th century AD during the reign of Emperor Wan-Li in 1537-1619. Although at that time porcelain orders were very encouraging, which was thousands a year, but there were weaknesses in the quality and artistic touch in its production. This is due to the difficulty of obtaining imported cobalt and high quality clay.

During the reigns of Emperors T’ien Chi (1621-1627) and Chung Cheng (1628-1645) which was the reign of the last Ming dynasty, the blue and white porcelain industry suffered a decline. The blue and white porcelain industry at that time got competition from porcelain companies from Japan. This is because most of Swatow’s porcelain industry has been taken over by individuals in the southeastern waters of the southern Chinese port and the Jingdezhen kiln site.


 1) D.F. Lunsingh Scheurleer, Chinese export porcelain, Faber and Faber Limited, 3 Queen Square, London.


Last Update: 28/02/2022