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Chinese Porcelain Marks: Symbols and Auspicious Marks


In the year 1667 during the reign of the Kangxi Emporor (1662 - 1722) an edict was enforced issuing a ban on reign marking non-Imperial porcelain wares. As a result, the majority of pieces from this period were typically marked with two concentric circles to the base without the expected reign mark.

Auspicious Ming Dynasty marks

Although this edict on the whole successful, there were inevitably some examples produced masquerading as genuine Imperial porcelain wares. Hence, one should not treat this entirely as a hard and fast rule to guide you. This was certainly more prevalent during the 18th century as this edict began to become largely ignored. Another alternative was to use marks of the earlier Ming dynasty emperors which was an entirely acceptable practice because although many fine porcelain examples had been created during the Ming dynasty, there was barely any remaining respect for the Emperors of the previous dynasty who were defeated by the Northern Manchu rulers.

Symbols replacing Imperial marks

Due to many peices being produced with empty circles, this in turn gave rise to symbols replacing the reign marks. These could vary ranging from either an artemisia leaf or hare resembling longevity, a lotus leaf meaning continuous harmony or a lozenge mark for good luck. The majority of the symbols used were of physical objects or images of good fortune and were either drawn from Chinese mythology or one of the main established religions such as Buddhism or Taoism. There were several main distinguishable groups from which these symbols originated as follows.

Musical instrument marks

The eight musical instruments known as ‘Pa yin’ which comprise of a Ch’ing (the gong), Chung (the bell), Ch’in (a long, seven stringed instrument), Ti (the flute), Zhu (an instrument composed of wood which was struck or plucked), Ku (the drum), Sheng (a mouth organ) and a Hsuan or Hsun (a mouth organ).

Twelve 'Hundred Antiques Marks'

A series of twelve symbols from an assemblage of various emblems known as the ‘Hundred Antiques’ also referred to as ‘Po Ku’. These twelve symbols consisted of eight precious objects known as ‘Pa Pao’ consisting of a pearl, coin, diamond, jade gong, picture, a pair of rhinoceros horn libation cups and an artemisia leaf as well as four elegant accomplishments.

Additional symbols

Eight Buddhist emblems representing positive omens.

Eight Taoist (Daiost) characteristics of the eight immortals.

A series of twelve embroidered ornaments associated with sacrificial robes.

If you have any Chinese porcelain that you would like to sell or have valued, please contact Robin Newcombe, Asian art specialist at Grand Auctions, Folkestone, Kent for further details.

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