Shanghai Pathways Blog

Understand ​China​ ​From the Local ​Perspect​ive



Stories of Chinese Porcelain

​Porcelain, also called Chinese ceramics, is one of humanity’s most ancient inventions. The stories behind this unique and exquisite material are fascinating, detailing how it made its way across the globe and gave the modern world the word “china”. 

The most important difference between pottery, primitive porcelain and real porcelain is temperature.

Porcelain was developed from pottery. China is the 1st country in the world to burn out porcelain. Around the Shang Dynasty, Chinese people were able to fire primitive porcelain. And the real successful firing of porcelain was in the Eastern Han Dynasty

In the Northern and Southern Dynasties, a new breakthrough is the white porcelain. Celadon contains green, blue, yellow, turquoise, and cyan; black porcelain contains brown and black; white porcelain may also be slightly yellow or slightly green.

The difference between them is the iron content in the glaze. 

In ancient times, the raw material ratio and temperature could not be controlled very well, so the glaze color was unstable and had strong randomness.

In the Tang Dynasty, white porcelain reached a point where it could compete with celadon, forming a situation of “South Qing North White“. The southern was Yue Kiln in Zhejiang, and the northern was from Xing Kiln in Hebei. 

There is a famous “Tang Sancai” in the Tang Dynasty. However, it is a kind of pottery fired at low temperature but it has multiple colors.

In the Song Dynasty, the famous “five famous kilns” are Ru, Guan, Brother, Jun and Ding.

“Ru Kiln, Guan Kiln, Ge Kiln and Jun Kiln” all belong to the celadon family, while “Ding Kiln” is mainly white porcelain.

The special one is Jun Kiln. The color of the glaze is determined by the iron content in it, and Jun Kiln added a little copper on this basis. As a result, it turned out a gradual purple red color. People praised Jun Kiln. as “one color into the kiln, come out with a million colors.” “入窑一色,出窑万彩”

Contemporary Art in China

The more you look into the Chinese Contemporary Art, the more you will find it is interesting and related to politics and the social development in China.

1980s: A Book form the Sky by Xu Bing. Attracting a lot of attention when it was shown at the National Art Museum, it consists of a bunch of books and wall scrolls that appear to replicate ancient literary text but up are comprised of intelligible characters. The work was interpreted by many to be criticism of Communist propaganda.

The “China Avant-Garde” show in Feb 1989 at the National Gallery of Art in Beijing – the first contemporary art exhibition permitted in an official forum. It lasted for only a few hours. Female artist Xiao Lu whipped out a pellet gun and fired two shots into a mirrored sculpture made from two telephone booths, which she created with another artist, Tang Song. Police officers swarmed into the museum. The international media covered the story as an act of rebellion. Xiao was embraced by the Chinese intelligencia as a hero and became the most famous female Chinese artist ever. Some even said the incident was an inspiration for the Tiananmen Square demonstration a couple months later. Later Xiao said that the motivation for her action was not political or aesthetic but emotional. She was expressing anxiety over her relationship ship, and firing at a reflection of herself. Many found this revelation trivialized what was perceived as great revolutionary act.

Cynical Realism” is the name of the movement that sprung up after Tiananmen Square. Typical of this period was an oil painting by Fang Lijun showing a bald man with his back to the viewer, facing towards clonelike men in grey Mao suits; and sculpture by Wang Keping called “Fist,” consisting a wooden bust of a man with a giant hand wrapped around his mouth.

In the early 1990s the art scene in Beijing was centered around an artist colony called Dong Un (East Village) behind the city’s Third Ring Road. There was a very lively underground scene there. In the mid 1990s, the art scene was largely underground and most artists were poor, often living in squalid conditions. Artists were accused of being sources of “spiritual pollution” and worried about being arrested if they talked to foreign reporters. Shows were held in basements in out-of-the-way areas to avoid police detection. If an exhibit stayed open a week that was considered a long time. With money in short supply, censors watching them and no galleries to market their works, they mounted one-night shows that doubled as rent parties in their small apartments.

Artists working in the late 1990s and early 2000s explored the social dislocation and isolation associated with the economic reforms or did various takes on Mao or Chinese iconography. The art market in China has attracted speculators. It was not unusual for the value of pieces to double in a single year. Stories abound about works of art that sold for 50,000 yuan in the mid 1990s and were resold for 3.5 million yuan in the mid 2000s. By one estimate 80 percent of the people who buy Chinese modern art do so for investment purposes. Many are young entrepreneurs or people that made money in the real estate market.

Among the well-known collectors of Chinese art are Hong Kong real estate heiress Pearl Lam; Uli Swigg, the Swiss Ambassador to China form 1995 to 1998 (he amassed a huge collection when paintings sold for a few hundred dollars a piece); Baron Guy Ullens, a Belgian philanthropist, and David Tang, the founder the Shanghai Tang fashion brand. The main auction house in Beijing, Poly Auction, is run by the Poly Group, a former unit of the People’s Liberation Army, and founded by Wang Yannan, daughter of Zhao Ziyang, a high level official who opposed the crackdown ay Tiananmen Square.

In 2006, total sales in the art market in China topped $300 million and was 21 times higher than in 2000. The same year Southbys and Christies sold $190 million of Asian contemporary art, most of it from China, compared to $22 million in 2004. The market peaked in 2007 and 2008 and then collapsed. Princes plunged by more that 60 percent in 2009, hit hard by the global economic crisis, a glut of art and a declining interest in it as collectors were showing more interest in classical Chinese art and porcelain than contemporary Chinese art. Plans to build new galleries and art spaces were canceled, artists with inflated egos were brought back to earth.

M50 is the name of the complex that has become the Moganshan Road Art District in Shanghai. Formerly a set of dilapidated warehouses, the complex, just south of Shanghai’s Suzhou Creek, has been turned into the premier location for Shanghai’s modern art movement.

M97 Gallery: 1st galleries in Shanghai to exhibit contemporary and fine art photography.

ShanghART Gallery: initiated in 1996 by Swiss owner Lorenz Helbling, one of the most influential art institutions and a vital resource to the development of contemporary art in China

island6 Arts Center: founded Liu Dao, a multimedia art group composed of performance, sound, photography and video artists collaborating with engineers to create electronic art.

Studio Rouge: a gallery of contemporary art, presents the best of China’s young artists who reflect the color, energy and vibrancy of their time.

Contemporary Art in Shanghai

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Went on a full day art tour recently, good contemporary art is always inspiring and make people think.

Contemporary Chinese art was born with the death of dictator Mao Zedong in 1976, whose Cultural Revolution had barred Western influences and stifled creative expression for years. Suddenly China started to get Western books and magazines and learn about all the Western art movements since 1949. So in the early ’80s, Chinese artist had their own versions of these movements.

From the performative works in the 80s to installations in the early 90s, art groups in Shanghai were always the first in China to experiment with new artistic languages and presentation tools. 

People go to Shanghai and see it is an absolute boomtown with buildings going up every day, and they become curious about the history of Chinese culture and fascinated with images of contemporary life. It is not easy to cover Shanghai’s contemporary art in one day, as there are over 6 different major art areas in Shanghai. But just like the 798 Art Community in Beijing, M50 is a blossoming arts district that now is the center of Shanghai’s art scene.  

However buying Chinese contemporary art is not for the faint-hearted. There are no museums in China to offer the validation that contemporary-art collectors in the West desire, and few independent critics or curators to judge whether a living artist’s work is good enough to stand the test of time. Yet that is not putting off buyers. Last year Asia accounted for nearly a quarter of global auction revenue, nearly twice what it was two years ago.

Zhang Huan Q Confucius

Idealy confucius should be a GOD, always looking correct, dressed up, and distant from any human beings, so most Chinese people can’t accept this controversial art show – as it is very shocking for us to see a naked confucius with a grand beating heart, or the crazy one in a cage with the monkeys.

However, I loved it, so fascinating and makes you think… it is about conservatism versus innovation, tradition versus creation in human history.

In China, Confucius’ legacy was the basis for social ethics and morals for over 2000 years, his theories always has been rooted in our culture.  One of his famous phrase: At fifteen my heart was set on learning; at thirty I stood firm; at forty I had no more doubts; at fifty I knew the mandate of heaven; at sixty my ear was obedient; at seventy I could follow my heart’s desire without transgressing the norm.

This show will be on till the end of Jan, the Rockbund Art Museum is an international platform for the promotion and exchange of contemporary art.

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