Chinese ginger jars history and what they were used for

Chinese ginger jars history

Ginger jars are steeped in centuries of Chinese culture and history, a ginger jar is shaped with a wide mouth, a domed lid and a bulging, bulbous spherical hand painted body, they come in various styles and sizes and many different colours. The true Chinese antique ginger jar is made of porcelain and hand painted.

Porcelain Chinese ginger jars were originally used to store food supplies like salt, herbs, oil and ginger (rare spices at that time), other ginger jars were allocated to be used as gifts. The jars acquired the name “ginger jars” because they often contained ginger when they were exported to the West.

It is not known exactly in what century ginger jars originated but the popular covered ginger jar gained  popularity in the Qin , 秦朝 Dynasty (221 BC–207 BC), the first ruling dynasty of Imperial China.

antique Chinese porcelain ginger jars
antique Chinese porcelain ginger jars

In the 19th century ginger jars became a fashionable product mass produced for export to the West where they were being used as a decorative element rather than functional, some ginger jars in the XXI century have been converted into lamps and flower pots.

Many antique centuries old porcelain Chinese ginger jars can still be found on the market but they show signs of tear and wear due to them being used as a canisters to store spices in the past, they are usually very fragile because of the aged porcelain and it is not often that you will find an real antique Chinese jar with its original lid intact, even more difficult to find a real antique Chinese ginger jar with its original matching domed lid.

Chinese ginger jars symbolism

The Chinese ginger jar designated as a gift for the Emperor was a yellow coloured  jar, being yellow the colour of ginger and the Emperor’s colour, this kind of jar could be used as urn, it always had an inscription with the Chinese symbol for health and long life, the gift was meant to last a lifetime and it is not considered appropriate for the receiver to give away a yellow ginger jar received as a gift.

The white ginger jar is the traditional Chinese wedding gift, it can bear an inscription with the Chinese symbol for happiness, prosperity and fertility or it is emblazoned with a logo of the Dragon & Phoenix on either side, the Dragon representing the groom and the Phoenix representing the bride.

Antique wedding gift porcelain ginger jar
Antique wedding gift porcelain ginger jar

Many blue and white ginger jars representative of the Yuan Dynasty , 元朝 (1271 – 1368) come with the Chinese character for double happiness suggesting that they were given as presents for special occasions such as weddings and intended to last a lifetime.

The red coloured ginger jar has an inscription with the Chinese symbol for happiness and prosperity, it symbolizes a wish for happiness and prosperity to the recipient.

Modern ginger jar lamp decoration
Modern ginger jar lamp decoration

Emperor Yongzheng Chinese porcelain vase – Qing dynasty

Another beautiful Qing dynasty porcelain vase was sold earlier this month in an exhibition of Chinese masterworks by London based dealer Eskezani Ltd. for the asking price of $25 million US dollars.

This 30cm high Falangcai porcelain pear-shaped (yuhuchun ping) Chinese vase painted with a dragon in purple enamels dates from the reign of the Emperor Yongzheng  it is the only existent piece out of a group of puce-decorated wares made in the Imperial palace, Beijing, from 1723 to 1735.

The vase was made to order for the emperor Yongzheng and reference is made to it in the imperial records, it would have been decorated by a court artist in Beijing after manufacture at Jingdezhen.

Qing dynasty porcelain vase
Qing dynasty porcelain vase

Most expensive Qing dynasty Chinese vase

This 18th century Qing dynasty Chinese vase is believed to be the most expensive Chinese jar ever sold, a private buyer from mainland China using an agent paid $83 million dollars for it at BainBridges, a small auction house based in West London.

The anonymous buyer paid $68 million for the vase and %20 commission fees to the auction house, making it a total of $83 million, it is the highest price ever paid for any Chinese artwork.

Most expensive Chinese artwork
Most expensive Chinese artwork

The Chinese vase had been with an English family for 80 years, though they do not know how it was acquired and was found all dusty by the sister and nephew of a deceased elderly woman while clearing out the house.

According to the auction house, this 16-inch-high Chinese vase painted sky blue and imperial yellow and adorned with medallions depicting leaping goldfish was made in the mid to late-18th century, around 1740 during the reign of the fourth emperor in the Qing dynasty, Qianlong. Chinese collectors consider this period of porcelains the zenith of their art.

18th Century Qing dinasty vase
18th Century Qing dynasty vase

The vase is reticulated and double-walled, there is an inner vase that can be viewed through the perforations of the main body.

It would have resided in the Chinese Royal Palace and was probably fired in the imperial kilns, made for the personal collection of Emperor Qianlong and bearing the imperial seal, experts said it was an exceptional piece.

18th Century Qing dynasty Chinese vase
Emperor Qianlong Chinese vase

China jars and vases