Subject:Re: 4 character marks
Posted By: Bill H Tue, Jan 16, 2018
I haven't read the Lunsingh Scheurleer book, but there's no doubt that many porcelains with four-character Kangxi marks exist, as they are pictured in Palace Museum and other Mainland China and Taiwan publications. The vast majority of them are on imperial wares, with probably just a handful appearing on dishes from popular kilns (minyao).
Tony Allen, again cautioning how exceptions may exist, cites another general rule in his most recent book regarding fake Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong reign marks. This one holds that they didn't appear on the scene until the Guangxu era (1875-1908).
I can see reason to believe this, because when one of these emperors died, Confucian ethic demanded continued respect and reverence not only from their subjects but by sons and successors. Reign marks were strictly regulated at the time, and there simply was no wiggle room in Lese Majeste codes for posthumously disrespecting any of these "High Qing" emperors, including abuse of their reign marks. You've got to figure, if the Qianlong emperor was willing to retire early so he wouldn't rule longer than his grandfather, he probably wouldn't mind ordering heads chopped off for any perceived offense to that same grandpa.
Ming reign marks were fair game, since apocryphal use of them actually had begun during the Ming period and continued into the Qing era to satisfy the thirst of the aristocracy for "official old wares" in their porcelain collections. But if anyone was caught was an imperial dish that wasn't awarded to them by the emperor, they were subject to execution.
I don't want to steal any of Tony Allen's thunder, but I have doubts about whether there was any sizable proliferation of four-character Kangxi marks after 1680, when official wares other than ritual types were first produced and the Imperial Kangxi mark came into general use. It is my impression that the six-character version was the principal mark in use during this early period. Also, I've never seen any indication that the use of Kangxi markings of either kind were the rule for export wares.
So all things considered, with a four-character underglaze blue mark on your dish, the best chance is still going to be that it was made for export in the late 19th or early 20th century, at a time when Chinese domestic porcelain consumption was driving the practice of adding apocryphal marks of everybody's favorite ancestral emperor to the base.