Straits Chinese Peranakan White Ground Porcelain

Straits Chinese Peranakan White Ground Porcelain

By Master Glen Chee, Specialist Collector and Subject Matter Expert
Photos taken by Glen Chee and Wong LM

This article will set out the immense value of these Straits Chinese Peranakan white ground porcelain (aka “white base Nyonyaware”) focusing on mainly on the artwork featured on these pieces are almost identical to the gaudy enameled Nyonyawares as such novice collectors should study and familiarize themselves from these white ground porcelains to gain identification skills and expertise. The knowledge will generate confidence for novice collectors aiming to take their collecting and acquisition to the next level of gaudy enameled Nyonyawares, importantly empowering them the skills to differentiate between the genuine and reproduction pieces. Secondly, this article will attempt to explain the rationale for its potential investment value in the local, international, and Chinese markets

White ground Nyonyawares to me has an appealing charm that has been recognized among novice and entry level Nyonyaware aficionados. Many elements contribute to this, but the most prominent would be the striking Phoenix and Peony motifs in famille rose embossed on the contrasting white glazed porcelain casting an illusion of superior artwork and finesse. In China, the use of famille rose on ceramics began as early as the Qing dynasty. Still, it was not until the Qianlong era that famille rose Chinese porcelain gained popularity, and production started in large quantities at Jingdezhen and became the mecca of famille rose porcelain production.

Image: Glen and Candy (“G&C Heritage Collection”) appraising white ground phoenix and peony plates for their acquisition.

A large quantity of famille rose wares were exported to the Western world, Nyonyawares would come under the main umbrella of Chinese export famille rose wares but as a sub-set derivative specifically ordered by and sometimes commissioned by the Straits Chinese Peranakans living in the Straits Settlements, Melaka, Penang, and Singapore. Jingdezhen produced many famille rose pieces, and some of the finest pieces were made there.

In contrast to the more refined ‘Chinese-taste’ porcelain, in general export wares particularly those from the 19th century tend to be highly decorated and even more so for Nyonyawares. These wares favoured by the Chinese Peranakans are mostly gaudily decorated in phoenix and peony (or four-season flowers motif or special motifs) with European style forms or in Chinese style forms, and can come in a variety of forms, for example, they may be teapots in European or Chinese forms.

The Phoenix and Peony Motif Series

  • Phoenix and Peony motifs (with green rockery)

  • White ground with pink enamel borders decorated with Buddhist symbols

  • White ground with white borders decorated with Buddhist symbols

  • Majority shop marked (common marks found are Cheng Yi Tai, Wang Sheng Su, Zhou Shun Xing, Zhan Fu Xing)

  • In lesser quantities Qing period mark

  • Very rarely affixed with an imperial mark “Guan Yao Nei Zhao” or affixed with a family name or trademark.


These wares were ordered by the Chinese Peranakan communities consisting of large dinner service sets utilized for the Tok Panjang and occasionally in other forms (such as kamchengs etc, refer to Image 3) other than table services. Collectors will encounter large amounts of this series in white ground stacked in collectors’ homes, museums, and traditional Chinese Peranakans ancestral homes, and usually the first types of Nyonyawares to grace entry level Nyonyaware connoisseurs. The white ground phoenix and peony series are mostly decorated with a standing phoenix looking left (rarely on the right) perching on green rockery and surrounded by peony blossoms. Variations such as hovering or perching phoenix are also encountered albeit in much less quantities, majority pieces come with a pink rim border (Image 1) or white ground border (Image 2 and 2 (b)). Personally, I prefer the items decorated with white ground border allowing the contrasting Buddhist symbols to be embossed and highlighting finesse craftmanship.

A significantly smaller amounts of white ground phoenix and peony nyonyawares were made during the last vestiges of the ailing Qing era and these pieces were affixed with the Qing period mark either in seal script or normal Chinese script but some were also affixed with a shop mark because the weak and corrupt Qing government were unable to enforce the imperial edict with regards to Qing period marks on porcelain.

However, the majority of the white ground phoenix and peony wares were affixed with a kiln/shop mark (most commonly found marks are Cheng Yi Tai, Wang Sheng Su, Zhou Shun Xing, Zhan Fu Xing). Based on the historical facts, most pieces were made after the fall of the Qing court, presumably the kilns probably took part in the revolution euphoria of the newly formed China and began affixing their porcelain with kiln/shop marks or substitute with a Republic of China seal script mark. 

Image 1-White Ground Phoenix and Peony series with pink border from various kiln makers. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection.

Image 1 (b)-Rare lidded bowl in white ground decorated with phoenix and peony motifs and salmon pink border. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection. Seal script Guang Hsu mark.

Image 2-White Ground Phoenix and Peony series with white border. Note the contrasting art against white ground. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection.

Image 2 (a) Derivative of image 2, white ground hovering phoenix and peonies large plate. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection

Image 2 (b)- Rare 21 cm White Ground Phoenix and Peony shallow bowl with white border. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection. Handwritten Guang Hsu mark, refer to Image 2(c).

Image 2(c)- Handwritten Guang Hsu mark. Observe the crispy high-quality porcelain and well depicted lively Phoenix’s flowing tail. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection.

Image 2 (b)- Rare 21 cm White Ground Phoenix and Peony shallow bowl with white border. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection. Handwritten Guang Hsu mark, refer to Image 2(c).

Image 2(c)- Handwritten Guang Hsu mark. Observe the crispy high-quality porcelain and well depicted lively Phoenix’s flowing tail. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection.

The White Ground Double Pheasant Series
This white ground wares are decorated with 2 pheasants, sometimes perching and rarely standing over green rockery and surrounded by peony foliage. The circumference borders are customarily enclosed and graced by Buddhist symbols and a chrysanthemum flower motif is found as the central medallion for plates and bowls (Image 4).

Image 4-The classic white ground double Pheasants series. The center saucer is a rare derivative of this series which I gifted to my collecting buddy, Master Wong LM for his birthday. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection and Wong LM Collection.

These wares consist of mainly large service sets for the table from tiny teacups to large, beautiful bowls and plates, some rare forms such as oval plates (Image 5) and celadon offering dishes.

Image 5-Rare white ground double pheasants oval plate. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection.

Occasionally mistakenly identified as Kakiemon Nyonyawares which they are not, the enamel and artwork applied are opaque and distinctively Chinese. Kakiemon style is highly distinctive due to the free-flowing style of motif representation and kakiemon enamels are translucent. Another common urban myth stating these pheasant wares are only made for the Penang Chinese Peranakans can be easily dismissed by facts, these wares have been found in Chinese Peranakan homes in Singapore, Melaka and Penang, however I do agree after years of empirical observation and research I concur Penang has the largest quantities of white ground double pheasants wares. This series predominantly were made before the standard phoenix and peony series however I believe both series were manufactured into the early Republic period, albeit in lesser quantities for the double pheasants series.

This position can be deduced and supported from circumstantial evidence and historical events; most white ground double pheasants pieces are almost always affixed by the following marks:

  • a Qing period mark (Dao Guang, Tongzhi or majority Guang Hsu);

  • a Khoo “Qiu” family mark (a well-known family from Penang) refer to Image 6; or

  • rarely in seal script Ming Guo mark.

It is almost impossible to encounter double pheasants wares affixed with the shop mark such as Cheng Yi Tai or Wang Sheng Su, instead most are affixed with a Qing period mark which indicates these wares were made before the Republic period. During the revolution, the abolishment of the imperial royal family was highly celebrated by the citizens as such it was highly unlikely kilns would have continued to apply Qing marks during the early Republic period instead kilns would have scampered to embrace the change and freedom by inserting their shop or business mark.

In addition, these wares were made from quality porcelain, most are well evenly glazed with refine artwork therefore producing a high-quality feel as compared to the phoenix and peony counterparts. In general, there are more shoddily made extant phoenix and peony wares than double pheasant wares.

Image 6- The mark of Khoo Shen De Zhao affixed on a Double Pheasant plate . Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection.


Image 6(a)-White Ground Double Pheasant Series in a grouping displayed in G&C Heritage Collection
Image 6(c)-Rare large Lidded Bowl-Double Pheasant Series. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection

The Key Fret Phoenix & Peony (or Diapier design) Border Series and Key Fret Bamboo Series

The Phoenix and Peony Key Fret series (Image 7) are less frequently encountered but these vessels depict the most magnificent artistically rendered phoenixes and these vessels are mostly affixed with a seal script Qing mark and almost never affixed with a famous shop mark commonly found among the repertoire of Nyonyawares. These wares are highly desirable due to the superior artwork found during the Qing dynasty (position supported by Qing marks).

Image 7 and 7(a)- Phoenix & Peony with Key Fret Border. Note the magnificent phoenixes that are well depicted. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection.

Rarely the key fret border is replaced by the diapier design (Image 8 and 8(b)), a pattern formed by small, repeated geometrical motifs set adjacent to one another, used to decorate the rims of these extant porcelains. According to a long time reputable antique dealer Mr. Choon of Guan Antique (Singapore), the diaper design dinner service was commissioned by Tan Kim Seng and he acquired an entire huge lot belong to a Tan descendent residing at Australia. I had the good fortune to have seen the photographs of this huge lot and acquire some pieces over the years, the Diaper Phoenix and Peony series remain one of my most prize items.

Image 8 – Very Rare Diaper border-white ground bowl-observe the exquisitely rendered phoenix. Vestiges of refine artwork resembling the Qianlong era still in existence during late Qing. According to Mr. Choon of Guan Antiques these were commissioned for the Tan Kim Seng family or related branches. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection.

Image 8 (a)- Very Rare Diaper border-white ground bowl-top view. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection.

Whereas the key fret Bamboo series (Image 9) are also from an earlier period than the standard phoenix and peony series but somehow the Bamboo series are often neglected and discriminated by collectors of Straits Chinese Peranakan antique porcelain. Even though this series is older, some extant pieces potentially date from Dao Guang period but mostly Tongzhi period, but these wares command less attention and less investment value however large extant pieces such as 19 to 23 cm plates and bowls are rare, and I foresee the investment value for white ground large Nyonyawares pieces increasing in the foreseeable future which I will explain in the later part of this article.

Image 9-Key Fret Bamboo Series-21.5 cm plate and 22 cm giant bowl. Previously acquired from MNP Auctioneers. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection

The Chao Cai Jin Bao Double Pheasant Series

This series has is surrounded some long-standing controversies, this article will provide information to clarify or dispel the surrounding controversies. Large sets encountered were probably ordered and made for Tok Panjang settings during the zenith of Chinese Peranakan culture. The light-colored enamels applied on these vessels strongly resemble the Japanese Kakiemon enamels and the artistic style also resembles the free flowing “Kakiemon” strokes as such most collectors have incorrectly classified them as Kakiemon wares. The art strokes are free flowing like water colour strokes as such lively but without the rigid details found in the classic Nyonywares (Image 10).

Image 10-Chao Cai Jin Bao Double Pheasant series. A rare 22.5 cm large shallow bowl and various assorted size wares Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection

The Chao Cai Jin Bao Double Pheasant series are all affixed with a seal script shop mark “Chao Cai Jin Bao” which is clearly Chinese in language and not Japanese. Some would say this series resemble the white ground double pheasant Series (Image 4) which is an entirely correct observation, the motifs and positioning of the motifs are very similar to the double pheasant series. The main differences are the type of enamels applied and different artistic style applied on Chao Cai Jin Bao wares.

  • Controversy 1: These are Japanese made “Kakiemon” style Nyonyawares

The lighter translucent enamels applied, and the artistic style rendered has Japanese Kakiemon influence, historically known during the Qing era Chinese potters and Japanese potters visited each other porcelain centers for the exchange of techniques and skills, as such it is not uncommon to find China made porcelain infused with Japanese style techniques and vice versa. The shop mark Chao Cai Jin Bao also produces standard Chinese famillie rose wares with opaque enamels as evidence in Lot 127 MNP Auction-Straits Chinese Antique Auction Series 11-2021 (Image 11)

Image 11-Chao Cai Jin Bao marked Straits Chinese full Peony and Buddhist Symbols Series. MNP Auction-Straits Chinese Antique Auction   

  • Controversy 2: Shoddy artwork for this series as such less desirable

The artwork applied on these Chao Cai Jin Bao Double Pheasant wares were meant to resemble the Japanese “Kakiemon” style which depicts motifs in watercolor artwork without many details inked on the motifs as such this is a technique and art style to be appreciated on its own merits.

  • Controversy 3: Low value as such not worth collecting

Low value factor was due to the above controversies, inaccurate classification, and inaccurate description of art standards.        

The Kakiemon Wares

There are many series and variations and derivatives of Kakiemon Nyonyawares, I will address 2 main types commonly encountered Kakiemon series found among the repertoire of Kakiemon Nyonyawares. Indeed, some Kakiemon wares were made in Japan, Arita and some were produced in China, Jingdezhen however whether the wares introduced in this article were made in Japan or China is out of scope and deserves detailed discussion as such will not be thoroughly addressed here.

  • Kakiemon Phoenix and Central Medallion Koi series
  • Kakiemon Phoenix and Central Medallion Planter series

Image 12- Two Kakiemon variations depicted in this image. Extreme top left Bowl has a planter motif central medallion, and the other 2 bowls are each decorated with a Koi central medallion. The Koi series artwork is closer to the Kakiemon style and of higher standards with the application of gold gilding on the phoenix’s tails and rims. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection

Image 13 and 13 (a)- Two Kakiemon variations depicted in both images. Top view. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection

Image 14-Kakiemon Planter Series. Note the vibrant colours and beautiful free flowing artwork. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection

Image 15-Kakiemon Koi Series. Bowl side view and Top view.  Note the vibrant colours and beautifully rendered Koi motif. Previously from Dr Ho Wing Meng Collection.

The images depict some of the finest artwork found in Kakiemon Nyonyawares, translucent and free flowing style providing life to the motifs, and most are made from crispy high-grade porcelain as such from an artistic point these wares are highly desirable for those who appreciate artwork. Personally, I am drawn to such wares and since less popular they are usually priced lower than the other standard Nyonyawares as such I habitually acquire them in bulk for my own pleasure and studies.

Some Kakiemon Nyonyawares are affixed with a Japanese kiln mark, these vessels are without dispute made in Japan and the artwork is easily distinguished and differentiated from those Kakiemon styled wares made in China (Image 15(a) and (b)).

Image 15 and 15(a)- Made in Japan Kakiemon Straits Chinese cup- Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection

Collecting Value and Investment Value-White Ground Wares

  • Collecting Value

Collecting white ground wares is the fundamental criteria for gaining efficiency to differentiate the reproductions and genuine pieces henceforth the value is tremendous, unfortunately many collectors jump the steps and ignore white base wares. Knowledge gained from collecting white ground wares can be applied onto coloured ground wares, other than identification the following skills are transferable to color wares (Image 16):

  • understanding the quality of porcelain used during that era;
  • feeling the weight; and
  • recognizing the glaze and patina.

Image 16- Zhou Shun Xing marked white ground wares with distinct artwork applied to Zhou Shun Xing marked colored wares. White ground wares serve as a more economical opportunity to study the various art styles from various kiln makers, once the novice is confident of his/her skills take the next step of acquiring higher priced colored ground items.

White ground wares serve as a more economical opportunity to study the various art styles from various kiln makers, once the novice is confident of his/her skills take the next step of acquiring higher priced colored ground items.

To dismiss white ground wares as low investment products is in my humble opinion illogical. Looking at statistics from various auctions, eBay and private sales the evidence clearly shows that considering Covid 19 times most white ground wares were sold like hot cakes with a reasonable profit margin. During pandemic times most individuals are hesitant to fork out a large amount to acquire Nyonyawares unless the item is of extreme rarity whereas most individuals are willing to acquire items that are below $2000. The increment of realized prices have been substantial over the years for example spoons previously sold at RM$120 are now sold at RM$250 and large bowls 20/23 cm are commanding rm$3000 to $5000 these days. A small 4-inch wide white kamcheng (image 17) experienced aggressive and fierce auction bidding among collectors which was held in Penang 2019 by MNP Auctioneers. The final hammer price of RM$9000 inclusive of buyer’s commission was an indication rare white ground wares are equally desirable

Image 17-A rare White base Kamcheng decorated with magpie and flora enclosed in each panel. Acquired from MNP Auctioneer and contributed by Lim CK Collection
Image 17 (a)-three Nyonyawares connoisseurs evaluating the white kamcheng at MNP auction preview, Penang 2019.
Contributed by Lim CK Collection.

There is a steady realization among the Chinese collectors in China that Straits Chinese Peranakan Porcelain are a subset of export Chinese porcelain and they have slow gained more interests and insights. The Chinese collectors tend to prefer the less gaudy white ground wares as they closely resemble the well-known domestic and export Chinese wares, some of the blue/white batik wares or some blue/white commissioned pieces closely resemble the Kangxi blue, white pieces (Image 18).

Image 18- Blue White saucer with gold gilding commissioned Nyonyawares resembling Kangxi era blue whites. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection

Image 19- High quality made Wan Seng-Life Garden saucer, commissioned for Cheah Hong Lim. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection

I have witness Chinese collectors sweeping the entire white ground Nyonyaware lots consisting of hundreds of pieces and paying good prices for such wares, once the trend is followed through by Chinese collectors white ground wares may command astronomical prices! Notwithstanding some Straits Chinese Peranakan white base porcelain are special commissioned pieces and they are truly pieces of exquisite beauty and expensive. The Wan Seng-Life Garden series (Image 19), commissioned for Cheah Hong Lim predates the classic Nyonyawares these white ground and white/blue with gold gilding applied wares were exquisitely crafted notwithstanding these wares resemble Chinese wares more than Straits Chinese Peranakan wares plus they are highly sought-after specialist collectors.  The Pak Choy series (Image 20 and 20(a)) commissioned for Tan Kim Seng is an example of exquisite artwork resembling the Ming pieces, these blue and white pieces differ in material composition as compared to the common Qing kitchen wares aka Batik wares, thus resulting in color variations after being fired. The cobalt blue (aka Persian blue) is rich in iron oxide, bestowing a hint of purple and the so-called “heaped-and-piled” effect with darker spots on the glazed surface producing a 3-D effect on the Pak Choy leaves.

Inconclusion, I encourage local collectors to start collecting more white ground wares before they become financially beyond the reach of most novices mainly due to these pieces vanishing in quantities due to the vestiges of time and due to the growing acceptance of the international and Chinese markets.

Image 20- Pak Choy series commissioned for Tan Kim Seng. Large Bowl acquired from the late Ho Wing Meng’s estate. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection

Image 20 (a)- Pak Choy series commissioned for Tan Kim Seng. Acquired from local auction. Contributed by G&C Heritage Collection
Inheritance of the Straits Chinese Heritage STRAITS CHINESE ANTIQUE AUCTION Series 112021 24 OCTOBER 2021
侨生华人文物拍卖 – 第11系列
SERIES 11/2021

Timed2Live Auction

拍卖时间 Auction Details 
Online Bidding starts on 9 October 2021 at 6:00 pm
Live Auction (Online) starts on 24 October 2021 at 1:00 pm
For assistance with bidding and registration, please contact:
Hotline: +6017-400 6661
Date: from 15 October to 23 Oct 
(by appointment only)
Venue: MNP BizCenter, Penang.
192A, Second Floor, Jalan Jelutong,
11600 Jelutong, Penang.
Contact Ms. Bettie at +6016-440 7740 for viewing appointment.

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