Chinese Porcelain Paintings: 3 Styles

(Originally published January 27, 2019)

In our last entry on Chinese Porcelain we listed the three ways of painting on porcelain, namely: youxiacai, painting below the glaze; youzhongcai, painting in between glazes; and youshangcai, painting above the glaze. While all ways of painting Chinese porcelain fall under one or more of these three, there are many more styles of painting, of which we only touched on in our last entry. Qinghua 青花, cobalt blue patterns/paintings applied as youxiacai to white porcelain, is one famous style mentioned in our last entry. This week we introduce three more famous styles of painted porcelain.


Youxiawucai 釉下五彩 , meaning “under glaze five colours” originated in Liling city 醴陵 in Hunan Province during the late Qing dynasty, early 1900s. Based on Qinghua and Youlihong colours the style also adds more colours that can be fired at high temperatures. This style of porcelain made the city famous during the late Qing early Republican period. Production continued in this town after the 1949 Revolution and this style was used by Mao Zedong and other leaders of the People’s Republic. 

An example of youxiawucai on a porcelain vase.

An example of youxiawucai on a porcelain vase.


Fencai 粉彩, “Powder Colour” is a style of painting on top of the glaze or youshancai 釉上彩. The paint is applied last after the porcelain has already been fired with a thin transparent glaze.The porcelain is then fired at a lower temperature to set the paint. Because the porcelain has already been fired there is no need to fire the paint at the very high temperature needed to fire porcelain, therefore a wider range of materials and colours can be used than in other styles. Fencai is popularly used for vases, porcelain paintings and detailed and colourful decoration on Chinese porcelain.

Buddhist Porcelain Painting using fencai technique

Porcelain teacup with fencai painting of scene from Journey to the West.


Doucai 斗彩, “Fighting Colours” is a kind of porcelain that uses both 釉下青花 youxia qinghua and 釉上彩youshangcai. The contours of the design are first applied to the porcelain surface with cobalt blue paint (qinghua). A thin layer of glaze is applied over the qinghua and then the porcelain is fired at a high temperature. The porcelain is then painted with youshangcai, the detail and substance of the pattern or painting is painted in using more colours, and then the piece is fired once more. It is a two-layer painting/pattern combining these two sets of colours/techniques. Doucai originated in mid Ming Dynasty. The process is very time-consuming and labour-intensive. Not many were made and few survived, making doucai antique pieces very precious and expensive. The process was revived first in Taiwan and then in Jingdezhen and it remains time-consuming and labour-intensive.

成化斗彩鸡缸杯 Meiyintang Chicken Cup is an example of doucai porcelain and the most expensive piece of porcelain ever sold at US$ 36 million.

成化斗彩鸡缸杯 Meiyintang Chicken Cup is an example of doucai porcelain and the most expensive piece of porcelain ever sold at US$ 36 million.


Tiehua 贴花  is not a style like the three examples above, but rather a technique of mass production. It is the process of printing a design/pattern/painting onto porcelain. Tiehua is considered a cheap form of decoration, often used for inexpensive daily use porcelain tea sets. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with tiehua, collectors should be wary of “hand painted” porcelain that is sold at a price that is too good to be true, especially for elaborate and well-executed designs. Labour and skill are the two greatest expenses when it comes to porcelain.

Tiehua printed painting on porcelain plate

Blue Willow Tiehua printed painting on porcelain plate