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Jing Tai Lan, the Sparkling Treasure


Jing Tai Lan (the Chinese for cloisonné) is a unique form of art with the combination of sculpture, painting, copper smithing and porcelain making. “Jing Tai” being the name of a Ming Dynasty emperor during whose reign mass production of such articles began. And “Lan” means blue, which is the background color of Jing Tai Lan in most cases. Cloisonné enamel techniques were brought from Persia into China’s Yunnan Province during the Yuan Dynasty. These were improved during the Ming Dynasty by incorporating them with some of the traditional techniques for metal inlaying and porcelain making, which eventually gave birth to a new kind of cloisonné called Jing Tai Lan.



The making of Jing Tai Lan requires rather elaborate and complicated processes. To produce a Jing Tai Lan or Chinese cloisonné vase, for example, the workman needs to produce the copper roughcast at first. This is to form copper pieces into various shapes with a hammer according to a design, joining them under high temperature. The second step is filigree welding, in which the workman pinches and curves copper filigree into delicate flower patterns, pasting them onto the copper molds. This is also the most challenging step of the procedure, heating to 900 degrees centigrade, firms the metal. In the third step, the workman inlays the empty space with enamel. They have to fuse powdery glaze in the smelter at 800 degrees centigrade, then take the object out and repeat the process three or four times until its surface becomes smooth. Then the fourth step comes to surface polishing, in which the workman will carefully polish the article three times with grit or charcoal to make the surface smooth. The last step is gilding. This time the workman will do acid pickling, and finally the fluid gold adds elegance and civility to the article.


If all the steps go well, the finished product will be elegant with a crystal or deep blue background and dazzling with red, green, yellow and white enamel that throws the golden yellow decorative patterns in sharp relief. That’s why Jing Tai Lan articles are magnificent colorful and shinning, with pretty high value of appreciation and collection.



Jing Tai Lan art crafts could be large – for example, a Tibetan-style pagoda in the Palace Museum collection is 2.3 meters tall. Meanwhile, there are also small things like jewel cases and toothpick holders, which are available in souvenir shops across the country. Jing Tai Lan articles have been popular all the time, and are still in mass production. Generally speaking, those produced during the Ming Dynasty have relatively heavy roughcasts, and are relatively simple in design. Those produced during the early Qing period, however, seem to be a bit too polished due to an over stress on their elegance. In comparison, those of the late Qing period are markedly crude in workmanship and superfluous in style.

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