More a method of making enamel porcelain than an antique Chinese doll, "porcelain queen" refers to the age-old porcelain-making technique that had been left for dead for more than 200 years. After eight years of tireless research, the technique was revived by experts from the National Museum in Beijing and artisans from the ancient porcelain-making city of Jingdezhen, and several pieces will be put on display at the museum from June 6.
Enamel porcelain made using this particular technique was the pride and joy of ancient China. The technique was termed "cai ci huang hou" or "porcelain queen" because each piece had a distinctive white and exquisitely crafted clay body, with a glittery jade-like glaze, and bright colorful patterns that indicated fine workmanship.
Unfortunately, the technique disappeared into obscurity after Qianlong's reign some time during the Qing Dynasty (1711-1799).
Xiong Jianjun is a porcelain-making master from Jingdezhen, a city in Jiangxi Province, that is renowned for its porcelain.
Eight years ago, experts from the museum on a mission to research the technique and revive it went to Jingdezhen. They met Xiong and asked him to join them in their quest.
According to Xiong: "The most difficult thing about producing enamel is getting the right mix of color."
Recounting the early stages of the research, he said that paints used to make enamel contain boron or arsenic. The porcelain starts to calcify in the kiln when temperatures reached a few hundred degrees centigrade. This causes poisonous smoke to billow from the furnace. Even with masks on, people standing near the kiln began to bleed from the nose.
“I can't tell you how many times we tried to perfect the technique," Xiong said. But last year, he and the team finally managed to replicate the technique that their predecessors used to make porcelain over 200 years ago.
Using the newly revived technique, the team made by hand copies of several treasured pieces of art using the same raw materials as were used during the Qing Dynasty. And they followed the old technique as closely as possible; collecting and breaking stones, filtering, washing, trampling and kneading mud, stretching and trimming clay, blowing glaze, painting and inscribing. The works were even burnt in a wood-fire kiln.
Wang Junlin, who is in charge of this exhibition, disclosed that 50 copies were made of each of the 20 exhibits. Engraved, that is fired into the porcelain, on the bottom of each piece is the period or era to which that piece belongs and a serial number. Those with serial numbers 50 will be kept at the museum permanently. The others will be sold as part of a limited edition collection.
Free tickets to the exhibition are available. Booking hotline: 010-5179 8969.