During the Yongle period of the Ming Dynasty, Zheng He, a Chinese explorer and diplomat, made seven sea voyages to the West, in which porcelain was given as one of the precious gifts for nations. From the early to the mid-Ming Dynasty, the Ming government implemented the “sea prohibition” policy and all the international trade that was unauthorized or carried out by the government was banned. At the beginning of the 16th century, the Portuguese first arrived in the coastal areas of China and profited a lot from trade where porcelain was the major item. They transported a great deal of porcelain via Shangchuan island and Macao. Around 1600, the porcelain carried by each Kraak to Europe could amount to 60,000 to 100,000 pieces. Soon, Spain, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and other European countries came to China to join the porcelain trade. The blue-and-white porcelain from China was transported to Europe via Macao along the maritime Silk Road, making Macao not only a transit port of great significance for porcelain export in the Ming Dynasty but also one of the scenes of great significance in the first wave of globalization.
The term “Kraak” originates from how the Europeans called the Portuguese carracks in the 17th century, and the great deal of blue-and-white porcelain carried to Europe by this kind of carrack was called the “Kraak porcelain” (also, the “carrack porcelain”). The Kraak porcelain was mainly burned from the Wanli reign of the late Ming Dynasty to the Kangxi reign of the early Qing Dynasty (1573-1722) with kilns located in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province, and Pinghe, Zhangzhou, Fujian Province, et al. It is the first kind of porcelain for export that involved batch trading in the China-European trade. As a subcategory of the blue-and-white porcelain for export, it is characterized by the continuous decorative patterns drawn in a painted frame (“Kaiguang”). What is depicted within the frame are usually the patterns of the natural landscape, figures, birds and flowers, fruits, “treasures of calligraphy” (i.e. writing materials), etc., that convey an auspicious meaning. It usually takes the shape of a bowl, dish, plate, cup, bottle, cover box, kendi and so on.
Collection of the Macao Museum