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Subject:The "Hollow Line" Revisited
Posted By: Anthony J. Allen Tue, Aug 30, 2005

“You sir, are a proponent of the hollow-line theory; such theory that has been largely and scientifically disproven, yet you continue to advocate your views which have no bearing on the truth”.
So said Lloyd Smith in a post of 22nd August 2005, under the topic “Daoguang Bat Dishes”.

I cannot leave a statement like this unchallenged, so for those readers who are interested in the “hollow line’ theory, I will present my own views for further discussion.

The “hollow line” theory was to my knowledge, first published by Calvin Chou in 1978. In 1996, when I published my first book, Allen’s Introduction To Later Chinese Porcelain”, I devoted a four page chapter to the subject. In my concluding summary, I stated “Readers in my view who disregard “hollow line”, do so at their peril…....…In my opinion, based on my own observations, Chou’s theory is largely correct but should be used with caution.” Almost 10 years have elapsed since I wrote this summary, and I have seen no new evidence that would change my opinion.

So what is “hollow line”? It is a name coined by Chou to describe a feature of many Chinese underglaze blue porcelains of the period circa 1850 to 1940, where the particles of poorly refined cobalt are pushed by the brush to the outer edges of the stroke. It is especially noticeable on the shorter strokes, like reign mark characters. I stress the word MANY, because the feature does not apply to All porcelain. Of five Guangxu mark and period pieces I have in stock at present, only two show the feature. An extreme example of hollow line is the apocryphal Yongzheng mark (Fig. 1).

“Hollow line” is also often to be found in conjunction with “split lines” (blisters) and bubble bursts, especially at the end of strokes, and the uneven application and spread (depth) of the blue is also a recurring feature of underglaze blue ceramics of this late period. The earliest dated piece I have seen with “hollow line” is now Daoguang (1821 to 1850), and must have been late in the reign. I also stated that the Draft History of Jingdezhen records at this time, a change in the method of applying the cobalt, using a lightly fired body rather than an unfired one. This to my mind is a plausible explanation for the feature, as a lightly fired body is likely to be less porous and less adhesive.

In arriving at my opinion, I have had at my disposal, not just a small collection of shards from the Imperial kiln site in Jingdezhen, but also a substantial collection of Chinese taste and mark and period porcelains, some sixty of which will be offered at Sotheby’s London sale of 9th November. In addition, I have bought, sold and handled thousands of other ceramics from this period and earlier.

Two of these shards are illustrated (Fig. 2), one from the Kangxi (1662 to 1722) reign, the other Guangxu (1875 to 1908). A closeup of the two, (Fig. 3) shows the features I am referring to in the Guangxu mark, but absent from the Kangxi one.

In the closing years of the Qing dynasty (circa 1912), and the early years of the Republic, some high quality porcelains bearing Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong reign marks were made, many of which were of such high quality that they were subsequently assumed to be mark and period. Two such exquisite items, tea bowls and saucers in doucai (contrasting underglaze blue and overglaze enamel decoration), with Yongzheng (1723 to 1735) marks, were withdrawn from an auction in Auckland last year. They had impeccable provenance with prestigious collectors’, dealers’ and auction house labels from the 1940’s and 1950’s. But they had extreme “hollow line” and in my opinion were Republic period. I have seen numbers of similar instances over the years, particularly with porcelain bearing Yongzheng marks, and in the mid-1980’s I had experienced Asian dealers compete at auction for thousands of dollars, on pieces I had submitted as Republic period, having acquired them from a dealer in Taiwan for just $US150 each.

The publication of my books caused some disquiet in certain quarters, noticeably with a few dealers and museum curators who had probably bought or sold such pieces as mark and period, either knowingly or in error. To my knowledge there has been nothing to support Lloyd’s assertion that the theory “has been largely and scientifically disproven”. In fact, the only criticism I have heard about my books, other than from a crooked Singapore dealer who expelled me from his shop, were second hand reports of postings on the Gotheborg site. Accompanied by similar comments as “anyone can write a book”, the jealous reactions provoked by these publications has been quite extraordinary. The success of my books, with sales now exceeding $300,000, has further upset these critics. While there was one error in dating in the first book, which I corrected in the second, I have not had one report of an error in dating in the second, the photos for which were discussed prior to publication, with Mr Lei Rui Chun, deputy director of the Jingdezhen Museum.

If Mr Lee would allow one further digression, I would like to make a personal observation of the Gotheborg forum, the site of these unfounded statements which Lloyd has chosen to repeat. The Gotheborg moderator has chosen to list “The 100 Best Books on Chinese Porcelain”, and if one counts them there are only 36. My books are noticeable by their absence from the list. However, I am in good company, for as Bill Hardy points out, neither is Liu Liang-Yu, author of what in my opinion is the best English language book on Chinese Imperial porcelains printed to date. We are in good company, because neither is Professor van Oort, Bushell or Hobson, to name just three more.

Whether these books are omitted by ignorance or prejudice does not really matter. By operating such a heavily censored site, where differing opinions to the moderator are discouraged and the contributors even banned, brings the site into disrepute.

I trust we may enjoy a healthy discussion on this topic, without resorting to personal attacks. I have presented some evidence to support my views. If you disagree, please try and back your comments up with photographic evidence.

I thank you for the opportunity of clarifying my position.

A.J. (Tony) Allen

Subject:Re: The "Hollow Line" Revisited
Posted By: Lloyd Smith Wed, Aug 31, 2005

Dear Tony,

I would like to engage this conversation with a scientific approach and not in the spirit of competition. Due respect shall be given as well as thoughtful consideration to the presentation of the facts.

1) Calvin Chou's original theory was published in 1978; lets focus before we go indepth as to what constitutes a theory. Dif: Theory. 1. A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, esp. one that has been repeately tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena. pg. 1429, 'The American hertitage college dictionary.'

2) A observation can be based on a number of facts to support a theory, but such theory cannot be designated as an absolute fact. But is a opinion devised to offer a rational explanation. Many scientific plausible explanations exist in many areas of study, but is not proof positive nor absolute fact. A true scientist looks for the facts; but if such facts cannot render themselves as proof, then it must be assumed to be non-conclusive.

3) I would like to ask if there is any new data to explain this phenomena 'hollow line' and would it have any scientific fact, as had been established by academic means and by whom?

4) Is there proof conclusive that would validate your observations as well as others, or is this just a collective opinion to explain a plausible theory?

5) It has been suggested that there is other periods that have similarities to the hollow line effect; I understand that a large portion of the evidence is confined to the late mid 19th century and through the republic era. How can you actively ascribe dates if such similarities exist?

Tony, I am very open, and will give you ample room to provide conclusive data. I hope that we can arrive to an understanding and develop a mutual respect for each other.

Regards, Lloyd

Subject:Re: Re: The "Hollow Line" Revisited
Posted By: Anthony J. Allen Wed, Aug 31, 2005

You are the one who is saying that "hollow line" exists in earlier periods.

Why don't you show us some examples from your own collection.


Subject:Re: Re: Re: The "Hollow Line" Revisited
Posted By: Lloyd Smith Wed, Aug 31, 2005

"It has been suggested that there is other periods that have similarities to the hollow line effect."

To me the "hollow line feature" generally strongly suggests a late Guangxu/early Republic date, but similar effects can be found in all periods.
Jan Erik Nilsson

Please Tony, I am asking valid questions to determine the truth of the purported facts that support your claim. I did not say that the hollow line existed in other periods, but rather I said there are similarities to the hollow line effect.

How do you respond to my questions 2-5 ? How do you respond to Jan Erik Nilsson observation.?

What scientific proof can you provide from established and well documented sources? How recent is the information that you use to support your claim? Is there new data for us to consider in order to make a better analysis?

Understand Tony, that I am only trying to understand you better, and how you arrive at your conclusions. I am looking forward to learning something new, and I am sure that the list would appreciate it as well.

Please don't twist my statements, as I am being very straight forward with my questions.

Regards, Lloyd

Subject:Re: Re: Re: Re: The "Hollow Line" Revisited
Posted By: Anthony J. Allen Wed, Aug 31, 2005

Spare me the rhetoric. I have posted what I think are clear illustrations of the hollow line effect, not only on this thread but also in both of my books.

If you believe that these features appear the same or similar in earlier periods, then show us your evidence.

Jan-Erik Nilsson and I do not see eye to eye on a number of matters related to Chinese porcelain, and just because he makes a statement does not necessarily mean it is correct; as witnessed by his commentary on his site that a he believes a Japanese Makuzu Kozan vase is Chinese.

Where is your evidence?


Subject:Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The "Hollow Line" Revisited
Posted By: Lloyd Smith Thu, Sep 01, 2005


You have given your hypothesis in an orderly manner and expressed your opinion. Here is some highlights from selected quotes:

1) "In my opinion, based on my own observations, Chou’s theory is largely correct...".

2) "In arriving at my opinion, I have had at my disposal, not just a small collection of shards from the Imperial kiln site in Jingdezhen, but also a substantial collection of Chinese taste and mark and period porcelains,...".

Yes Tony, but you need to explain why this theory is factual. I desire very much for you to address my questions, as was detailed. I am sorry but in order for you to validate a chosen theory, you will need to support it with scientific research, coupled with academic research from known and respected specialists.

I am sure that you agree that Chou's theory and your 4 page summary would not be enough to substantiate the facts or lack thereof. Please address my questions in the order that I have given them. It is by no means an unfair request; if you are a true scholar, then each of these questions will be answered in a manner that bespeaks a gentleman and scholar.

I really am trying to engage in a very intelligent conversation, but you must realize that if you are going to expound on a theory presented as a fact, then you must validate it properly; not just give your opinion, nor state that you agree with Mr. Chou, but expound as to why you believe it to be a working fact.

Please answer my questions.... looking forward to your timely response.

Regards, Lloyd

Subject:Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The "Hollow Line" Revisited
Posted By: Anthony J. Allen Thu, Sep 01, 2005

I am sorry you haven't taken your medicine again.

When I posted this listing I had hoped, if there are in fact people with legitimate reasons for dismissing the hollow line theory, that they would have presented evidence to support their reasons. Instead, I get your interfering posts, which can be negative or positive, depending on which personality you have adopted for the day. Please just go away and irritate someone else, or would you like me to post the emails that you sent me that totally contradict what you have been stating in this forum?

There is a deathly silence from the other contributors. Surely an amicable discussion on the rights or wrongs of the hollow line theory has not frightened everyone off? All I ask is that if you agree or disagree with the theory, then present some photographic evidence to support your position.


Subject:Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The "Hollow Line" Revisited
Posted By: Barney Thu, Sep 01, 2005


When you started this post I said to myself "Finally, someone has come forth with EXCELLENT information." I have to commend you for providing this forum and it's members with not just detailed information, but very good images with explanations accompanying them. Your time is appreciated.

I've seen your site and dealt with you in the past on many occasions. I have the highest regard for both you and Kelly and your knowledge in the field is excellent.

I left this forum quite a while ago, mainly due to Lloyd Smith. I know others who also have stopped visiting for the same reason. Looking at the past posts that involve his input explains why.

There are those of us that have been on (or led) excavations in China and have first hand experience and then there are those that live in their catalogues and books.

You have provided this forum with excellent information that clearly has merit and support. This is what a forum should have. Instead, due to Lloyd, each post turns out to be a never ending thread for (as Kelly has said in the past) back-peddling when proven dead wrong, or just always getting in the last word. I thought the 'overwhelming' response he got to his "Farewell friends" post ended it, but apparently not.

I hope for the sake of the forum, that Lloyd becomes a learner, not a teacher. There are many knowledgeable contributors to this forum. Unless things change soon, this will probably be my last post.

Thank you Tony (and Kelly)


Subject:Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The "Hollow Line" Revisited
Posted By: Lloyd Smith Thu, Sep 01, 2005

"I trust we may enjoy a healthy discussion on this topic, without resorting to personal attacks. I have presented some evidence to support my views. If you disagree, please try and back your comments up with photographic evidence."
Anthony J. Allen

Tony, I entered this discussion in the spirit of fairness and with a open mind, I have given you ample room to expound on the theory 'hollow line'.

Thus far you have expressed only a personal view and opinion; your only source of reference of which to build upon your hypothesis is some very old material which was published by Calvin Chou in 1978, along with your own published material produced in a 4 page commentary, published in 1996.

Many years ago, while attending grade school in history class, my teacher asked the class, " Who discovered America?." I happily raised my hand and exclaimed, the native Indians. With veins protruding and pulsating from her red angry face and neck, she loudly made this proclaimation: " It was Christopher Columbus, and I will not tolerate disruption in the class room; go to the principles office."

Tell me, who was actually right? And what would this say to a 8 year old boy?

Tony, I asked some very valid questions, and came into this discussion as a student and not as your challenger. I am entertaining the possibilty that I may have been wrong in my assessment, which is why I have given you an opportunity to expound the facts and answer any question that may arise from most anyone.

Instead you have chosen to insult me by making very unkind and unfair statements. On Aug. 22, I made this statment: "Anyone that differs contrary to your point of view, is met with the most severe and dire of consequences; to the point that you would skillfully defame their reputation." From the thread, “Daoguang Bat Dishes”.

I have not come to disprove your theory, but rather to ask the questions. Three times I have asked you to address my questions, and each time you have skirted around the issues; instead you insult me.

Photos are worthless without a well thought out thesis and presentation of facts from respected academic published sources. Other than Mr. Calvin Chou and yourself; is there any professional to your knowledge that has expounded on this theory since 1978... yourself excluded.???

Now understand that I am taking the position as a student and not the challenger. For the fourth time, will you address my questions with respect, and with scholarly input, give a detailed analysis based on scientific fact.

If you should respond in the negative, this would prove my statement as was mentioned above in regards to the posting dated Aug, 22.

I very much look forward to your learned hypothesis, as I am willing to learn something new. As a side note, I have forgiven you for any untrue and unkind statements you made concerning myself.

Yours trully,


Subject:Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The "Hollow Line" Revisited
Posted By: Anthony J. Allen Thu, Sep 01, 2005

Thank you Barney,
Similar sentiments have been conveyed to me by email from other members of the forum.

One contributor has emailed me and asked if I would post another piece for discussion, and to state my reasons why I believe it is of a specific date or period.

In (Fig. 4) I show front and rear views of a Chinese underglaze blue decorated saucer dish, with a design of stylized lotus scrolls, and bearing a six character underglaze blue Qianlong (1736 to 1795AD) reign mark. The questions for novice collectors is,
“Is it Imperial (made for the Palace?)”
“Is this Qianlong mark and period?”

Now I will endeavour explain my reasons why in my opinion it is not.

The stylized lotus design was produced in the Imperial factory in Jingdezhen in every reign from Kangxi (1662 to 1722AD) to Xuantong (1909 to 1912AD), but the design for the Palace is much more standardized and busier (ie more painting). Those of you with my books will see several examples illustrated for comparison.

The design on this example is much more freely painted, and to my eye, one immediately dates it as Guangxu (1875 to 1908). In fact so sure was I that this was Guangxu that I carelessly listed it on eBay as Guangxu mark and period, having cursorily looked at the Qianlong mark. To the non-reader of Chinese, the Qianlong and Guangxu marks look remarkably similar, and neither of my staff picked the error, which is often repeated. In fact, only last week, a friend of mine bought two Guangxu mark and period cups and saucers on eBay, both of which were also catalogued as having Qianlong marks. The Qianlong mark has the little box on the back of the hook shaped character Qian.

My next consideration is the texture and feel of the foot rim, which is gritty and coarse to the touch. If this was from the Qianlong Imperial factory, I would have expected it to be extremely well levigated, and smooth to the touch. Gritty foot rims are a feature of the late Qing dynasty, circa 1870 to 1912.

The third consideration is the type and quality of calligraphy of the reign mark used. This is casually but neatly written in the Kaishu script, and in underglaze blue is rarely found on Qianlong Imperial wares, the standard mark being in zhuanshu or seal script. In fact, over the whole of the sixty year Qianlong reign, there seem only to have been a few calligraphers entrusted with the job of writing reign marks in the Imperial factory; whereas there are numerous reign marks in the earlier twelve year Yongzheng reign, some of which I believe are later reproductions.

The fourth consideration is the presence of the features of “hollow line”, for those dealers and collectors, like myself, who use the theory cautiously. In (Fig. 5) I show a closeup of the mark, with a faint indication of hollow line, but clear evidence of split lines. Note also the variations of depth of color in the strokes.

All of these features indicate to me a late Qing dating, probably Guangxu period (1875 to 1908), the piece being “minyao” or peoples ware. With experience, these considerations are done subconsciously.

I have also taken the liberty of illustrating one of the most prolific Qianlong calligrapher’s mark (Fig. 6), and draw reader’s attention to the following features:
1. In the bottom left character (zhi or made), the presence of a “double trident”.
2. The short vertical stroke
3. The extension of the horizontal stroke

It must be remembered, that in Chinese porcelain, for almost every rule there will be an exception. So use these “theories” with caution. In fact I would go so far as to call them observations rather than theories, for these features have in my experience been observed on numerous occasions.

As always, I welcome Mr Lee’s and forum members’ comments.


Subject:Re: The "Hollow Line" Revisited
Posted By: Anthony M. Lee Thu, Sep 01, 2005

I would have automatically assumed Guangxu also, less because of the mark than because of the design form which is typical of the period. I enclose a bowl with the Guangxu mark and the elongated bottom stroke matching Tony's example.

Anthony M. Lee
Asian Art Research

Subject:Re: The "Hollow Line" Revisited
Posted By: Bill H Thu, Oct 03, 2019

I can't speak for Tony, but I wouldn't mind seeing more of your Guangxu piece.


Bill H.

Subject:Re: The "Hollow Line" Revisited
Posted By: OLiver Watson Thu, Oct 03, 2019

Greetings Tony.It has been a long time but over the intervening years I have found nothing to disagree with your assertions and theories.We both worked together on this and came to the same conclusions.
Interestingly I have just acquired a Jiangxi poreclain company mark vase in blue and white.It distinctly shows hollow line the decoration also in underglaze blue shows hollow line and a lovely bubble variation so typical of the late Imperial pieces not the 'icing sugar bubble" of the copies.The footrim is without looking at the mark an Imperial Guangxu footrim and a natural one not polished.I do not know if you have studied these pieces much but if you are interested I will post some pictures.Also the six charcter blue and white mark lines up precisely with the decoration on both sides of the vase not a coincidence thus I am sure that these pieces were made on and before 1908

Subject:Re: The "Hollow Line" Revisited
Posted By: James hanks Tue, Sep 09, 2014

Great pic of Hollow Lines on one of My Vases. | Associations | Articles | Exhibitions | Galleries |