Cherished by Chinese and Western connoisseurs for more than three hundred years, blanc de Chine (literally "white of China") was the name given by the nineteenth-century French to a variety of Chinese ceramics manufactured primarily during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the county of Dehua, Fujian Province, in southeastern China, located opposite the island of Taiwan. It is the pai tz'ü "white porcelain" par excellence, of the Chinese. These predominently white monochrome wares depend solely on the union of beautiful crafting along with a bland glaze for their stark aesthetic appeal. Although blanc de Chine was without imperial patronage, limited in range, and conservative in taste even for a conservative people, it has held this appeal longer than any other porcelain so far as the basic ware itself is concerned. Preserving always an air of craftsmanship and frequently of distinction, white wares from the Dehua region were made for decoration and religious purposes as well as cooking, serving, eating and drinking in the home.
The most exquisite pieces from Fujian Province are from the town of Dehua itself and are termed "Dehua ware," while anything that is not quite up to these lofty standards is considered "Fujian ware." Only becoming well known during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) primarily for the finely carved figures, Dehua ware and blanc de Chine are interchangeable terms for this sublime porcelain.
Blanc de Chine manufacture started in the Song dynasty (960-1279), a period that saw a unified China, rise of a merchant class, first use of gunpowder in war, and aesthetic innovations in drawing, calligraphy and hard-glazed porcelain. Dehua wares exported during the Song and Yuan (1279-1368) periods enjoyed an excellent international reputation. Large quantities of early Dehua porcelain from the late Song and early Yuan dynasties have been found in Indonesia and the Philippines.
White porcelain always has enjoyed favor among the Chinese. Some writers have attributed this to its resemblance to white jade. However, if there is to be a resemblance to other material, that material is surely ivory. But it must also be borne in mind that white, the color of filial piety in China, is also the color of death and mourning in Chinese symbolism. This may account for most of the wares of Dehua being of a devotional character, such as statues and incense burners. Possessing a ware of unique rarity and white color, the factories directed it into uses where it would be in greatest demand. This slant which embraced censers, altar candlesticks and other ritual objects besides figures, was manifest from the inception of the classical ware of the Dehua kilns, as can been seen from a text of 1604 with its reference to Buddhist figures even then making their appearance in the bazaar at Putuoshan.
Dehua County in central Fujian Province in southeast China is known as one of the Three Porcelain Capitals in China, together with Jingdezhen in Jiangxi Province and Liling in Hunan Province.
Dehua porcelain dates back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Solid and smooth, Dehua porcelain is resistant to both heat and cold. One type of "Jianbai" porcelain in particular has a sparkle and luster even more stunning than white jade. Its ivory-white color and superb workmanship make it a favorite of art lovers.
Dehua Kiln was a famous kiln specialized in white porcelain making. Its sites spread about within the scope of today's Dehua County, Fujian Province. Its white porcelain became a representative genre of Chinese porcelain industry. The body of its while porcelain was low in iron content and high in potassium content, the color of the glazed surface was of bright, smooth luster, and milky as frozen fat. It was thus often called as "lard white" or "ivory white". Dehua white porcelain used to be one of the major varieties for export in various dynasties. In the West it was named as "Chinese white porcelain" or "Marco Polo porcelain". Its common shapes were burner, cup, bottle, plate, tin, Zun (a kind of wine vessels), and Ding (an ancient cooking vessel), which are often decorated with appliqués and stamps, and the porcelain figurine was also remarkably exquisite. The masterpiece of Dehua porcelain is white porcelain figure of Buddha.
Dehua porcelain gradually developed its own techniques and styles and enjoyed big development during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). During the Song and Yuan dynasties (960-1368), Dehua porcelain had already been exported to other countries and regions. In modern times, quite a few Dehua porcelains of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) have won gold prizes in expositions held both at home and abroad, such as Shanghai, Taiwan, Japan and Britain, and Dehua porcelain is one of the main products of the national porcelain export, exporting to more than 80 countries and regions.