Reeves Center lecture

Published on Author Mike
Hong Bowl, US Dept of State Reception Room, similar to that on display in the Reeves Center


Ron Fuchs of the Reeves Center hosted us in the Watson Pavilion to hear of the China export trade. He privaleged us with the opportunity to handle a piece from the dinner service of Pres George Washington and Gen Robert E Lee on Founders Day.

Note the many economic themes: the Chinese government exercise of its monopoly, the comparative advantage plus costs of trade that left it difficult for foreign purchasers to pay other than in silver, the co-location externality that made Jingdezhen (景德镇) a world center for nearly a millennium; the “manufactory” organization that predated anything in Europe; the economics of the China trade, that had the potential to generate great wealth for entrepreneurs in a in a little over a decade; and the diffusion of themes and (eventually) the reinvention of how to make porcelain by Europeans in the early 18th century.

Go back on your own, peruse the panorama painted by the late Prof. Ju I-Hsiung of the production process; and see many, many more examples.

Query: what impact would the rise in incomes in China have on the modern city? Here’s one story, from CNN travel — and I use the word “story” deliberately. Still, as an economics study, do they back their claims with an analytic model?

3 Responses to Reeves Center lecture

  1. The CNN travel article does not back their claims with analytic models. Instead, we are provided with the perspective of several members of the Jingdezhen (景德镇) community– a native/tour guide and a porcelain stall owners. The tour guide says that much of the porcelain available is machine-produced (which is cheaper and faster to produce) and the stall owner says that the competition is becoming fiercer as more porcelain sellers are moving to Jingdezhen to make a higher profit. Additionally, the stall owner, Jiang Meirong (江梅荣), states that the younger generations are moving away to find jobs in other industries. Although this article lacks economic backing, it does provide some additional history about Jingdezhen.

  2. The story of Chinese porcelain parallels strongly with China’s reputational rise and fall within the world’s great economic powers. For many centuries, China’s innovations bolstered its status as a country full of luxurious and groundbreaking goods. And while the Chinese government exercised its monopolies over these goods to the benefit of its economy, one has to wonder whether or not its focus on external threats left the country exposed to vulnerabilities internally. Post-imperial China emphasizes quantity over quality, and various authenticity scandals regarding its products have ultimately tainted its reputation as a provider of superior goods. Likewise, though Jingdezhen’s porcelain was once world renown, increased production and lack of quality control has hurt the cultural good, burdening the great city with the difficulties of any tourist town. And while the CNN article does not provide analytic models to back its claims, it does present some compelling concerns regarding Jingdezhen and the porcelain trade’s futures. The government is trying to reemphasize the quality and cultural beauty of porcelain products by encouraging traditional craftsmen back to their kilns. However, the real question lies in how the government will attract young people to learn and take part in this piece of Chinese culture. We have spoken continuously about young peoples’ movements out of traditional towns to cities, and Jingdezhen is no exception. Will China be able to recapture the magic of porcelain both nationally and internationally?

    • “…to the benefit of its economy.” ==> don’t you mean to the benefit of the imperial structure? Surely monopolies are otherwise undesirable, prices too high and output too low. Now there is still very fine porcelain coming out of Jingdezhen, but without the government monopoly of empires past they have been free to follow the mass output strategy, which in the aggregate generates more jobs and profits. So, should the government try to reassert quality — isn’t that a euphemism for reasserting monopoly? That however will backfire if Jingdezhen no longer has a monopoly over the ability to produce high-end products.