Chinese Export Silver and the Enlightened Renaissance

The Empress Dowager Cixi led China through a cultural and artistic renaissance.

The Empress Dowager Cixi led China through a cultural and artistic renaissance.

Chinese Export Silver always adapted to the realities of Chinese history. It was, after all, a product of that history, as such, that it has qualities that no other silver category possesses. Viewed in the overall context of China, it is an excellent indicator of prevailing historical events at any given time.

That a de-facto ruler of the largest nation on earth could, in 47 years, transform an effectively medieval society into a modern 20th-century state is extraordinary in itself. The fact she was a semi-literate woman in a totally man’s world is exceptional. With Empress Dowager Cixi at the helm, she dispensed with centuries-old customs—most steeped in ancestral superstition and confined within the boundaries of Confucianism. Minds were pried open and this was quickly reflected in all the creative arts as well as revolutionary changes in merchant trading. For Chinese Export Silver, it meant a move away from its former traditional center Canton, to Hong Kong and Shanghai, as well as other treaty ports. Previous vassal states such as Vietnam, Korea, Mongolia and Formosa began to create silver that became increasingly divorced from the Chinese style.

WorthPoint’s Adrien von Ferscht explores the role the Empress Dowager Cixi, who rose to power from a lowly origin. Born in 1835, Cixi’s father was an ordinary Manchu official. She entered the Imperial court in 1852 as a concubine and was elevated incrementally to the rank of Virtuous Honorable Concubine. While she was not particularly well educated, being able to read but initially barely able to write, she lived her life according to traditional values; a fact that often presented her with a dilemma when she had become determined to modernize China while trying to ensure the Manchu Qing Dynasty remained intact. Read the whole article on the Chines Export Silver website.


Adrien von Ferscht is an Honorary Research Fellow at University of Glasgow’s Scottish Centre for China Research, a Fellow for Arts & Culture at the Asia Scotland Institute and works with museums and universities around the world. He is a consultant for Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions and his ever-expanding website, Chinese Export Silver, is the largest online information resource on the subject. His new 250-page Third Edition of the “Collector’s Guide to Chinese Export Silver 1785-1940,” is the largest information reference resource for this unique silver category. The single purchase price acquires the Catalogue plus all subsequent editions free of charge. Adrien also encourages people to share images and ask questions at avf@chinese-export-silver.com.

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