The handicrafts of the Ming Dynasty achieved obvious development in both technology and art and many handicraft varieties formed their respective famous centers of production. Jingdezhen was the nationwide pottery-making center. During different periods there were different technological characteristics and various kinds of utensils, such as the Yashou Bei (a kind of cup) during the Yongle period (1403-1424), the celadon during the Xuande period (1426-1435), the colored celadon and the Ji Gang Bei (another kind of cup) during the period of Chenghua (1465-1487), the monocolored glaze during the period of Zhengde (1506-1521), and the export-oriented porcelain during the period of Jiajing (1522-1565) and Wanli (1573-1619). The technology of dyeing and weaving in the Ming Dynasty developed by leaps and bounds, such as the silk weaving in Suzhou and Hangzhou, the cotton weaving of Songjiang, the printing and dyeing of Wuhu, and the embroidery of the Gu School in Shanghai. The metal handicraft was featured with the Xuande Lu (a batch of small copperware cast with the copper mined in southeast Asia for meeting the demands of offering sacrifices to gods and ancestors as well as for lavendering clothes) and cloisonné (a kind of enamel with copper base and clipped copper wire). The development of garden buildings, the abundance of timer and the improvement of carpenter’s tools brought up the developed furniture handicraft of the Ming Dynasty, which was known for its simple and unsophisticated shape, perfect handicrafts and refined style. In the Ming Dynasty, numerous craftsmen came to the fore, such as Gong Chun and Shi Dabin killed in Zisha Tao (purple-clay pottery), Han Ximeng clever at the embroidery of the Gu School, Madame Ding skillful in cotton, Yang Xun accomplished in golden lacquer, Lu Zigang good at jade carving and the family of Zhu are talented at bamboo carving.
In the Ming Dynasty, the new idealist philosophy “Knowledge is action” put forward by Wang Shouren was very popular. Meantime, a school of thought emphasizing erudition, another stressing practical purpose and still another accentuating scientific studies all came into being. In the later period of the Ming Dynasty, Wang Gen raised the assertion “For common people, practical use is the correct way,” which promoted the emergence of monographs on arts and crafts. For instance, Huang Dacheng (a lacquer artisan of Xin’an, Anhui) and Ji Cheng (1579-?), a garden designer of Wujiang, Jiangsu, summed up their experiences and wrote the Xiu Shi Lu and the Yuan Ye (Garden Design) respectively. The Tiangong Kaiwu, written by Song Yingxing (1587-?) was praised as an “encyclopedia of arts and crafts in 17th century of China,” which summed up in a scientific way the process of production and division of specialties of various kinds of handicrafts in the Ming Dynasty.
Zheng He went on his occidental voyages for seven times and expanded the ecomonical and cultural exchanges between China and other countries. In the later period of the Ming Dynasty, the seeds of production relations of capitalism appeared in the regions south of the Yangtze River. The Westen science and technology, such as machinery and physiology, were steadily introduced into China by missionaries. These factors promoted an all-around development of the industrial art of the Ming Dynasty and a handicraft style, refining, dignified, simple and decorative, was finally formed. Obviously the handicrafts of the Ming Dynasty formed two major systems: the court handicraft and folk handicraft. The former laid stress on technology and the means of expression was rigorous while the latter inclined to artistic expression and had a strong flavor of life. In a word, the handicraft of the Ming Dynasty was a matured period for the development of the national style of the industrial art of China, available basically with the main features of the modern times.
At the beginning of the Qing Dynasty, with the recovery of agriculture, handicrafts and commerce developed. During the reign of Kangxi (1662-1722), Yongzheng (1723-1735) and Qianlong (1736-1795), ceramic,dyeing and weaving, lacquer ware, and carving and engraving all developed to some extent. In the respect of ceramics, Jingdezhen was still the various in glaze varieties. During the Kangxi Empire, priority was given to ancient colors, vigorous and robust; during the ruls of Yongzheng, color porcelain was the most outstanding, tasteful and delicate; and during the reign of Qianlong, enameled color porcelain was the greatest achievement, overelaborate and meticulous. In the respect of dyeing and weaving, the silk and satin of Suzhou and Hangzhou, the cloud brocade of Nanjing, the brocade of Sichuan, the textile of Guangdong, the printing and dyeing of Shanghai, the rug of Xinjiang and Ningxia were known nationwide. Embroidery also orso formed local characteristics and respective technological system with the embroidery of Suzhou, Guangdong, Sichuan, Hu’nan and Beijing as the most famous. Of the metal handicraft, cloisonné had somewhat innovation with the Qianlong period as the most developed. As all techniques were comprehensively used, it became a commodity for export at the end of the Qing Dynasty. Lacquer ware gradually formed different fabrication centers with respective local features, such as the carved lacquer ware of Beijing, the lacquer ware of Yangzhou inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and the bodiless lacquer ware of Fuzhou. The painted clay figurine of the Qing Dynasty was represented by the artisan “Clay Figurine Zhang” of Tianjin and the clay ffigurine of Huishan, Wuxi. They were either combined with practical use or used as toys, very popular among the people. In the respect of ornament, the auspicious patterns, popular in the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty, achieved the effect of “hiving meaning in all pictures and expressing auspiciousness in all implications” through the use of symbol, implication, homonym. metaphor, and Chinese character.
In short, the arts and crafts of the Qing Dynasty inherited the tradition of the Ming Dynasty and had some development in its production technology and artistic creation before its middle stage. The handicraft creation tended to be sophisticated and exquisite during the later stage but the production skills still had certain development. The varieties of the handicraft arts of the Qing Dynasty were plentiful and technological skills were applied in a comprehensive way, which can be used for our reference. However, the drawing-like ornament that played a leading role is neither in coordination with utensils nor with shapes, so it is inappropriate for us to use it in handicraft articles. Some handicraft varieties even applied foreign culture in a mechanical way for ornament. That is not what we should learn from. With the change of the modern social formation and people’s way of life in China, the industrial art of China has undergone a transformation from traditional form to modern form and given first place to the life of the masses. As a result, machines are used for the main technology to make handicraft articles, which fits in with the modern aesthetic taste, concise and practical.