万寿无疆! The History of the Longevity Pattern

You’ve most likely seen the red, yellow and teal longevity ceramics at your local Chinatown ceramic shops, or at your local Chinese restaurants peeking out under an order of chow mein. This classic pattern has an interesting history that most people do not know. 

The longevity pattern is made up of a floral design mixed with 4 equally spaced circles containing the Chinese characters 萬 “Wàn”, 壽 “Shòu”, 無 “Wú” , 疆 “Jiāng”. The phrase 萬壽無疆 translates to “Boundless Longevity” and is the key component of the classic longevity pattern that originated during the Kangxi Period of the Qing Dynasty (1661-1722).

 

Longevity ceramics were famille rose porcelain (a type of porcelain defined by the presence of pink color overglaze enamel) made by official kilns. They were used during special occasions only, such as the Emperor’s birthday. Longevity ceramics as well as the phrase 萬壽無疆 [wàn shòu wú jiāng] were exclusive to the emperor, commoners were strictly forbidden to use them. After the fall of the Qing Dynasty however, the longevity pattern went into the common kilns and became a popular design for ceramic tableware. Between the last dynasty and the founding of PRC (1949), there were no standards regulating the ceramic production, so the quality and design of longevity pattern varied quite a bit.

When the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) came to be, the phrase 萬壽無疆 was widely used in praise of Chairman Mao. People of all ages had to practice this chant at the beginning and at the end of their day, dance and sing to it with passion. This video below shows you exactly how it was. 

Long Live Chairman Mao Chant in Beijing

In this chant, Chairman Mao is described as the Sun that is in the hearts of the people, who were described as sunflowers. As a result, the original lotus flower composite (宝相花) that was traditionally found on longevity porcelain changed to a sunflower design to represent people’s love towards Chairman Mao.

Longevity pattern tea cup produced during Cultural Revolution era, with sunflower design instead of lotus flower

 

More than 60 different shapes and 100 different specifications of the famille rose porcelain were produced during the Cultural Revolution in China's Porcelain Capital, Jiangdezhen. Since everything was manually produced, ceramics were categorized into 4 grades based on their quality. Top quality ceramics were mainly exported to Southeast Asia, Italy, and other European countries, leaving the rest to be sold domestically. Longevity ceramics are still being produced to this day, but their value can not compare to the Qing dynasty ones or the Cultural Revolution ones. High quality longevity sets produced during the Cultural Revolution era can worth thousands of dollars, depending on the condition. 

 

Inspired by the history of the longevity pattern, the latest addition in our store are these beautiful longevity paper plates and cups. Adapting to a more modern lifestyle, traditional wan shou wu jiang patterns are digitized and reproduced in original colorways and printed on paper in food-grade soy-ink for health and easy recycling. Upgrade and jazz up any celebration, be it birthday picnics, housewarmings, baby showers, with these stunning paper plates and cups. Truly the chicest way to showcase your Asian heritage.  

 Check out the longevity paper plates and cups here!