A gem of Chinese ceramics, eggshell
china is remarkable for its extraordinary thinness. Yet it is appreciated also because it
is spotlessly white, translucent, and sonorous when tapped. It is made mainly into bowls,
vases, cups, lamp-shades and articles for use in the study. Whatever form it assumes, one
may appreciate through its paper-thin wall with its coloured painting on the other side
like watching the moon through flimsy clouds, or green hills through a thin mist with the
beauty enhanced by a veiled effect.
The "eggshell" has as its forerunner
yinggingci (shadowy celadon), which was produced as early as in the Northern Song Dynasty
(906-1127). Present-day production excels the past in both quantity and quality. Recent
successes at Jingdezhen include a 75-cm-tall vase and a large bowl 25.7 cm across, sizes
thought impossible to mould in eggshell china in the past.
To make such
"insubstantial" utensils, an exacting craftsmanship is needed. It requires the
best and most carefully selected kaolin, mixing of ingredients according to strict
prescriptions and repeated tempering of the clay before the potter moulds the paste into
bodies. Then, a master craftsman will wield various cutting tools to shape them finely
into eggshell thinness and have them fired in the kiln at a high temperature of over 1,300
The most difficult
part of this process is the fine-moulding, which finalises the form of the utensil. A
veteran master, relying solely on his sense of hearing and touch, decides on the thickness
of the wall, holding his breath when he applies his knife, as a slight slip would result
in a ruined body.
is not for use but for interior decoration and as a deluxe ornament. A small bowl may cost
upwards of 7,000 yuan! The eggshell plates and bowls of the Yongzheng period (1723-1735)
of the Qing Dynasty, now displayed in the Palace Museum of the Forbidden City, are
literally priceless. No wonder all eggshell china, whether in museum or in private
collection are always kept inside a glass cover.