Social Science - Other

Chinese Porcelain and the Economic Development of Europe



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There exists a curious chapter in history that takes place
between the West (Europe) and China that is not often
discussed but which in a twist of fate is important to
the context of the current relationship between east
and west.

Today in western countries and in China itself much is
made of the degree to which China now copies many
things that are western. This skill of the Chinese in
reproducing all manner of goods has led to western
countries being apprehensive towards China.

The history of porcelain in the West is an important
chapter in the relationship between China and the west
that deserves to be told both for what it can teach the
west as well as the Chinese people.

I have long been passionate about history. In
particular the history of economic development and the
relationship to antique objects fascinates me.

It is within this context that this story begins. As
most Chinese know the production of porcelain is an
ancient Chinese art. The history of this deeply
functional yet aesthetic product goes back thousands
of years in China.

What is less well known among the Chinese people is
the deep affect that this practical art had on the
West and how it shaped the economy of countries far
removed from China.

In the 17th century European trade with china expanded
rapidly. Chinese porcelain was extremely popular among
the wealthy ruling classes .Only the wealthy could
afford even simple blue and white bowls. They were the
ultimate luxury product.

So it was no surprise that Europeans from Holland
,France, Germany and England all tried desperately to
copy the Chinese.

The early copies of Chinese items are not porcelain
but earthenware (pottery)type items. These are known
as "delftware". In 1708 At Meissen in Germany a
scientist successfully developed the first European
porcelain. The French and English were quick to follow
and by the middle of the 18th century there was a huge
expansion in the porcelain manufacturing business
across Europe and England. All the early European
porcelain tried to copy the decoration of the Chinese.
Even much later a famous Chinese pattern was being
copied known as "blue willow".

Many fortunes were made and the porcelain industry was
one of Europe's most important from the 18th to the
middle of the 19th century. As time passed the early
copies gave way to many original patterns and the
Europeans in all countries including France, Germany and
England perfected styling and decoration .Today one of
Europe's most proud artistic achievement is the tremendous
porcelain that it has produced over the past two hundred
years.

There are many lessons to be learned from the
development of the porcelain art and industry in
Europe over this time. The Chinese can take great
pride in knowing that without their inspiration Europe
would never have developed porcelain to such a high
art form. Also in a real way porcelain production
played an important role in the industrial revolution
and the rise of England, France and Germany
economically.

The conclusions with respect to the rise of the
porcelain industry in Europe and the implications for
China are as follows.

1- The West copied the Chinese 200 years before the
Chinese ever copied any western item or idea.

2- Without China the west would never have developed
one of their most important art forms.

3- Without China the West would never have developed
one of the most important industries of the period .A new
industry that was an important part of the industrial revolution.

4- The West was able to take a product that was purely
Chinese and over time develop through innovation a new
product that played an important part in day to day
life.

5- The Chinese people should be proud of the part that
they played in the development of the west.

6- In the long term Chinese export trade to the west
was very positive and led to significant innovation
there.

7- Even the most traditional industry which had
existed for over 4000 years in China can lead to new
product and innovation.

8- Art, Design and Industry often work together to
develop a societies economy. That is innovation in Art
and design can lead to substantial economic impact
even in the most traditional industry.

Today in many peoples minds there is a win lose
mentality when it comes to discussing trade. That is
if one side benefits the other
must be the loser. The early trade between China and
Europe clearly shows that both sides can benefit and
that there are many unforeseen positive developments
that can occur through trade.

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More about this author: Laszlo Parakovits

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