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Relationship between Falangcai, Yangcai, Fencai, and Famille rose


There is much confusion over the meaning of the terms Falangcai (珐琅彩), Yangcai (洋彩), fencai (粉彩), famille rose.   In essence, the terms are used to refer to a form of overglaze enamelled wares which can be distinguished by the presence of enamels that are opaque and powdery in nature.   So how does one decide whether a ware with such opaque enamels is Falangcai, Yangcai or Fencai.  

Origin of the term Falangcai, Yangcai, Fencai and Famille rose

Firstly, we need to know that the term fencai only appeared during the late Qing period. It was first mentioned in 32nd year of Qing Guangxu by Ji Yuansuo Chenliu (寂园叟陈浏) in his work Tao Ya (陶雅).  Fencai literally means powdery colour.  It aptly described such enamel which is both opaque and has a powdery texture.  Alternatively it is also called Ruancai (软彩), meaning soft colour.  The enamels are different from those used on Wucai which are transparent and appear hard in texture.   In 1935 - 1936, some of the imperial porcelains in Beijing Palace collection were sent to London Wellington Palace for exhibition.  Among them were some originally catalogued as Yangcai porcelains.  They were re-labelled as fencai during the exhibition.    Hence, we can see that at least in the mind of those from the Republican period, falangcai and Yangcai are two different category.  The term Yangcai became less well known and is instead now more commonly referred to as fencai. 

The term falangcai was known since the Kangxi period when enameled cloisonne wares made their appearance and were presented as gifts to the Emperor Kangxi. It was a term used for the European enamels found on such wares.

Yangcai was first mentioned in 13th year of Yongzheng (1735 A.D) by Tang Ying (唐英) in "A brief Account of Ceramics" (陶务叙略碑记).  He commented that Yangcai is a type which imitates the falang style of painting.  Apparently, to him Yangcai and falangcai are different.  The term Yangcai suggested that the enamels is foreign related and/or the style of drawing is foreign influenced.    According to the most often quoted Chinese understanding of fencai, it is stated that fencai was produced based on the technology of wucai and falangcai as the foundation. Hence, Yangcai is a hybrid which contains elements of wucai and falangcai.

Prof Zhang Fukang of the Shanghai Silicate Institute has carried out a comparative analysis of samples of Palace workshop falangcai and fencai enamels.  He noted that there is difference in the flux formula.  Fencai consisted of  Lead oxide - Potassium oxide (PbO -K2O) whereas Falangcai also has boric oxide.  Those oxides act as flux that lower the melting temperature of the enamels.  The enamels of both falangcai and fencai contain lead-arsenate which resulted in the opacity.    Wucai and fencai have the same flux formula.  If we look at the colour palette of a typical fencai wares, we note that the iron red and probably green are from the wucai palette.  The iron yellow of wucai is replaced by opaque lead stanate yellow of falang palette.  Some other falang colours such as blue and pink are important enamels in the fencai palette.  


However, we should note that in actual fact there is still  problem in differentiating some Yangcai produced in the Jingezhen Imperial kiln from those falangcai produced in the Palace workshop.  As we know, the visual appearance of those opaque enamels of both falangcai and fencai is similar.  For Yangcai pieces which do not use any of those colour from the wucai palette and using composition/overglaze enameled seal mark similar to those on falangcai, the categorisation is extremely difficult if the provenance was mixed-up.  There were instances of re-labeling of pieces in the palace collection from Yancai to falangcai or vice versa during the Qianlong period.  

The term famille rose was coined by Jacquemart in the 19th century.  It refers to Chinese overglaze enamelled ware which a colloidal gold rose pink colour dominates the colour palette.  This term fits the description of both Yangcai and Falangcai.  In fact, the Japanese ceramics expert Masahiko Sato commented that falangcai wares are the best famille rose pieces.  


Production of Yangcai (Fencai)

During the late Kangxi period, while the Palace factory workshop was producing the falangcai poreclain wares, the Jingdezhen imperial kiln was also probably experimenting with producing wares which incorporate both falangcai and wucai colours.  The best Yangcai pieces were produced in the Jingdezhen imperial kiln under the supervision of Tang Ying during the reign of Yongzheng and Qianlong.

Interestingly, some early export Kangxi fencai were known to be produced in folk kilns too.  In the earliest pieces, only opaque pink enamel was used together with other transparent wucai colours for the decoration.  We are not sure whether the private kiln potters learnt the new technology from the Imperial kiln or it was a private initiative.  As the composition and decoration on such pieces were similar to Kangxi export wucai wares, we cannot rule out the possibility that it originated from European buyer's order specification. They may have requested that the manufacturer included the use of some elements of European style enameled decorations found on cloisonne. During the Yongzheng and Qianlong period, export style fencai wares were highly demanded in Europe.

Fencai and falangcai acquires the opaque or powdery look due to the presence of a substance called po li bai (玻璃白),an opaque lead-arsenate white enamel. The shading effect ,which gives perspective to a motif, is achieved by altering the ratio of colored enamels to this white enamel.   A typical example is that as applied for the pink floral petals. 

In this piece, the only fencai enamel is the rose pink colour, the rest are from the wucai palette.  Even the yellow is the transparent iron yellow


Kangxi wucai with similar composition as above

Example showing various fencai opaque enamels

Example showing various Kangxi wucai colours



Production of Falangcai

During the 32nd year of Kangxi reign, workshops were set up in the Yangxin Hall (养心殿) in the palace to produce various form of artcrafts.  One of the workshops was called falang Zuo (珐琅作), initially dedicated to produce bronze cloisonne vessels decorated using enamels imported from Europe.    In the 55th year of Kangxi, the workshop started experimenting with production of falangcai on porcelain.  Plain porcelain vessels were ordered from the Imperial kiln.  The porcelain surface which required enameling is unglaze in biscuit form.  After the vessel is decorated with enamels, it is fired in muffle kiln in the Palace workshop.  Apparently, during the experimental stage, the potters were still unable to overcome the technical problem of completing the decoration on glaze surface.  The main problem encountered is related to the different expansion/contraction rate of the enamels and the porcelain medium.  In fact, the enamels of Kangxi falangcai are characterised by very fine crazings.   The raw enamels are in soft glass form and is also called liaocai (料彩), ie glass colour in Chinese.  There are only about 40 pieces of extant Kangxi falangcai vessels.  

The enamels were initially imported from Europe but in the 6th year of Yongzheng (1728 A.D), the Chinese succeeded in producing the enamels and even introduced additional colours.  

During the Kangxi period, the wares has a coloured ground imitating the cloisonne form, the favourite colour being red and yellow.  The base has the overglaze enameled mark Kangxi Yuzhi (康熙御制).  During Yongzheng period, more varieties of decorations were introduced.  The decoration is drawn on glazed surfaced instead of the unglaze surface during Kangxi period.  They include floral/bird and landscape motif accompanied by poetic inscription and seal marks.  During the Qianlong reign, there were even those decorated with European style human subjects. 


Written by: NK Koh (8 Nov 2013) 



中国古陶瓷的科学  - Author 张福康  Published by 上海人民美术出版社

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