Saturday, August 22, 2015

Puzzling Evidence - Chinese Cloisonne and the Cultural Revolution: "Red Army Women" Vase

UK eBay vendor the-fancy-fox-antiques has on offer what appears to be a rare and unusual cloisonne artifact made post-Liberation (after 1949), perhaps during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).  She has kindly granted permission to use her photos here, in hopes of generating some discussion about this vase.  It is a larger piece, 13 inches high.  I left the photos at original size in order to show fine details, so just keep scrolling to reach the text discussion following them.

Noteworthy aspects of this vase:

  • Uncommon shape, carefully worked rolled lip and base, elaborate neck and base decorations, diamond net background diaper, all characteristic of better works from the Beijing Enamel Factory (JingFa)
  • Lavish use of aventurine (goldstone) enamel
  • Postage-stamp-like pictures of women in what appear to be Red Army roles.  We don't see mere militaristic images, but women doing things like shooting rifles, waving pistols, doing exciting high jumps in the cavalry, welding, operating signal corps radios...
The aventurine enamel is often seen in antique Japanese pieces, such as this little vase also on offer from the same vendor:

However, the Chinese version of this enamel is much finer-grained, with the sparkles more resembling glitter.  Here are two vases from my collection which feature sparing use of the copper aventurine enamel, in contrast to the vase under discussion.
The small coppery brown areas are aventurine enamel.
This vase has an unusual provenance, reportedly having served as a lamp (it has the requisite base hole) in the Minnesota home of a well-to-do Korean family in the 1960s.
The aventurine enamel is used sparingly, appearing only in leafy scroll motifs at top and bottom.
The diamond net background diaper can be seen in this pair of large vases, for which I have the box with a ZiJinCheng logo, which seems to be circa 1970s-80s.
The small red logo at upper right says "Zi Jin Cheng"
Zi Jin Cheng sticker on base of another vase pair (not the pair pictured above).
The sunflower motif seen in the neck frieze of the "Red Army Women" vase seems to have been a thing during the Cultural Revolution, appearing in pieces such as these:

A sunflower has been substituted for the traditional lotus in the blue scroll pattern around the neck.

Elaborate and uncommonly used background diaper.

Carefully crafted base.

The seller stated that this vase was purchased in Beijing in 1972.
UPDATE: This Bloomberg article about an Ai Weiwei exhibit at the Tate states, 
During the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, Chairman Mao Zedong was represented as the Sun with the Chinese people as sunflowers turning their faces toward him.

Vases with scenes similar to the example above are pictured in a biography of cloisonne artist Qian MeiHua.

A correspondent with whom I shared pictures of the "Red Army Women" vase sent a link to the site featuring Chinese propaganda posters.  The section on women is well worth viewing.

Comments, anyone?


  1. Hi:)
    I stumbled upon your blog while researching a vintage Kimono sash holder (I think it is called an Obidome) I have.

    I found this post most interesting and informative. Thank you so much for sharing...I may be back when I start researching some Japanese vases I have, lol...Gorgeous!

    1. Thanks! There's also some bits here about obidome -

      The dragon beads in particular seem to show up on things in Japan, possibly a result of the Japanese occupation of China 1937-45.

  2. I found your posts are very informative. You seem have a great collection of Cloisonne. This is first time I saw a cloisonne with motif of a cultural revolution motif. Thanks a lot.

  3. A search on Lao Tian Li cloisonne led me here. A very interesting new China
    military women vase! While China issued several sets of stamps on women,
    the most relevant one seems to be the one on military women issued on March
    8, 1977 (T10). Triangular-shape stamps are very rare in China. If I remember correctly, only one kind was issued before 1990s, in 1951.

    1. Awesome! It never occurred to me to check to see what actual postage stamps might exist. Here's a blog that shows the T10 Militia Women stamps: