Wright & Smith founding member, Yuet Tung China Works, is celebrating their 90th anniversary with a stunning exhibition of hand painted porcelain in Hong Kong’s Times Square.

Established by the Tso family in Kowloon in 1928, Yuet Tung is now the only remaining factory in Hong Kong that produces traditional hand painted porcelain. The workshop’s story, as told in the Times Square exhibition, offers a wonderful insight into Hong Kong’s local culture and extraordinary social development through the twentieth century. Yuet Tung’s nine decade journey through World War Two, the technological advances on the 1970s, the mid 90’s handover and contemporary Hong Kong, is perfectly expressed through the highly detailed porcelain that they have created over the last 90 years.

Yuet Tung are particularly admired for the quality of their Canton style decorated porcelain. This unique art form originated in the city of Guangzhou, capital of the Guangdong province, and, until 1842, the sole legal port for the export of Chinese goods to Europe. Hence Guangzhou became an important commercial port for merchant ships from Europe, South Asia and the Americas on the ‘Silk Road on the Sea’. Typically the porcelain was made, fired and glazed in Jingdezhen, China’s capital for ceramics production in Jiangxi Province, and then decorated in Guangzhou. During the Republican Period of Civil wars in Mainland China, Hong Kong’s ability to engage in free trade with the West meant that it replaced Guangzhou to become a flourishing port in its own right.

Canton porcelain painting is an intriguing combination of skilled work by hand and the chemical reactions of metal oxides on white porcelain resulting in this unique aesthetic. The painting is often with heavy texture, features glossy colours, gold paint and with the signature visible black line outlining the designs. The most popular motif of Canton painting is the pink rose buds, otherwise known as the Canton Rose, often combined with figurative motifs of birds, flowers, butterflies all within a floral boarder. The vibrant colours, gold accents and detailed patterns made Canton porcelain so sought after around the globe.

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Mr Tso Lui Chung and his partners founded their first porcelain-painting factory, called Kam Wah Loong in 1928 in Kowloon City. Before the 1940s, the factory, employed around 300 workers and was one of the largest workshops in the territory. During the Japanese occupation of WW2, all production stopped. In 1947 Mr Tso established a new factory, Yuet Tung China Works. During the 1950s business was thriving, with a strong community of workers: the factory provided housing and food for all of its workers and their families.

Due to Hong Kong’s unique social and political situation clients often requested mixing Western motifs with Canton style for their dinner services. By the 1960s Yuet Tung offered around 26 popular patterns, painted exquisitely with the Lingnan style – an eclectic fusion of Han Chinese and western painting styles – often with auspicious connotations. In the 1970s the then governor Sir Murray MacLehose and his wife Lady MacLehose commissioned a bespoke dinner service inspired by a blue and white antique design produced in Victorian England but with the signature Canton rose boarder, it is still in production today. As is the Newbigging pattern as first requested, also in the 1970s, by Lady Caroline Newbigging, wife of Sir David, then Tai Pan of Jardine Matheson.

Today Yuet Tung occupies smaller premises in Kowloon Bay. The number of skilled workers has sadly declined over the decades: from 300 in the 1940s, to around 20 in 1987 and now only four remain. None are under the age of 50.

Yuet Tung China Works was the first workshop to join the Wright & Smith platform.  They are, in a way, where our story began, having designed and hand painted the wedding china for the grandparents of our founder, Sasha Young.  The story of how the beautiful design, two people’s true love and traditional skills of exquisite craftsmanship survived cultural boundaries, world war and three generations inspired Sasha to establish Wright & Smith – so that we could share more wonderful stories like this of design and craftsmanship from around the world.

Yuet Tung China Works really are the last remaining workshop of their kind in Hong Kong. Their skill in traditional hand painted Cantonese style ceramics is unsurpassed anywhere today.  Mr Tam, the current master painter, was an apprentice there in the 1970s and produces exquisite work as shown on the dragon stools and umbrella stand that you can order here from Wright & Smith. We are also particularly proud and fond of our exclusive 5 Blessings Tableware collaboration with Yuet Tung. Click here to discover more.

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