Elegance in enjoying a cuppa

Local | Bernard Charnwut Chan May 16, 2018
The Museum of Tea Ware at Flagstaff House in Hong Kong Park recently opened a new exhibition. The show Behind the Art: Chinese Export Tea Ware features over 60 pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries.

These items, from the collections of Flagstaff House and the Chinese University Art Museum, are fine examples of porcelain exported from China to the West two and three centuries ago.

Many incorporate elegant designs using fencai enamel, which is admired for its appealing colors. The illustrations include birds, flowers and rural scenes. While they are beautiful to look at, they also tell an important story about the development of cultural and commercial ties between Europe and China.

The Dutch started the trade on a large scale in the 17th century, shipping blue and white ceramics in Chinese designs.

Demand for Chinese tea ware was obviously helped by the rise of tea drinking in Europe.

As tea drinking became more popular as a social activity, especially among well-off ladies, it became fashionable to use Chinese cups and teapots, though the designs became increasingly Western.

This cultural borrowing continues. It is amusing that mainland and Western tourists visiting Hong Kong today like to go to the Peninsula and Mandarin hotels for afternoon tea and cakes served with similar elegant cups and saucers.

They are replicating a British tradition that started 250 years ago as an imitation of Chinese style.

The exhibition takes place until October 31. For details, see

Bernard Charnwut Chan is chairman of The Jockey Club CPS Advisory Committee

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January 2019