Bringing products from China back to China, couchsurfing and cultural exchange

Sanne van Oosten

We are couchsurfing our way through China. And as we are trying to be the lovely surfers for the hosts who are so kind to let us in, we bring every host a small souvenir from our home-country, the Netherlands. This typical Dutch gift is of course, delftsblauw porcelain, as you see in the picture above. You can’t get any Dutcher than that, you’d think. But think again, these gifts aren’t only made in China, the blue color painting was even copied from the Chinese.

Under the influence of the Chinese export porcelain, other Asian and European countries began to imitate it and produce porcelain copied from China. The Japanese copied Chinese porcelain with their Imari ware, German Meissen porcelain, Louis the 15th Sevres porcelain factory and of course Dutch Delftsblauw.

But before they started to imitate Chinese porcelain, they imported as much as they could. The blue-and-white porcelain tea sets produced at Jingdezhen kilns during the late Ming and early Qing era became a sensation in Europe. Chinoiserie and the widespread popularity of coffee and tea prompted the large scale export of Chinese porcelain tea sets as well as tea. The blue-and-white porcelain were shipped together with tea and silk on trading ships to Europe. Through these sea journeys these products were introduced to Europe and became an instant sensation.

The Dutch term “Kraak”, formerly used for such porcelain, is probably derived from the carracks, the Portuguese ships that carried Chinese porcelain to Europe in the 17th centuries. This “Kraak” ware consisted of bowls, plates, dishes, cups, bottles and covered boxes. It was mainly decorated with blue and white colored landscapes, figures, flowers and fruit.

In the 17th century, Dutch craftsmen from the Dutch town Delft, successfully reproduced a material similar to the clay from Yixing. Real porcelain had not been successfully produced in Europe until the beginning of the 18th century. In 1710, the German Meissen porcelain workshop successfully produced white porcelain using highland clay as the main ingredient. This technique was later transmitted to various places in Europe. The French King Louis the 15th established the Sevres porcelain factory and began to produce rococo style colored porcelain. These techniques marked the maturity of Western porcelain production.

Even though Dutch Delftware in Delftsblauw coloring is considered to be height of Dutchness, it’s origin does not lie in the Netherlands at all. Furthermore, even after the Dutch started producing “their” porcelain, German and French craftsmen continued developing  the techniques to optimize imitating Chinese porcelain. Once again, cultures are even more interconnected than one would initially think. So actually this makes it an even more appropriate gift for couchsurfing hosts. As the couchsurfing philosophy is rooted in cultural exchange, we give our dear hosts gifts that is a product of exactly that: cultural exchange.

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