Broken Pots Broken Dreams tells the stories of Jingdezhen’s ceramics workers during 70 years of economic transformation in China. China’s economic policies personally affected more than seventy thousand porcelain workers as the state nationalized and then marketized porcelain production. Residents of Jingdezhen raise questions about whether private markets are the best economic system for workers as they recount their experiences of the planned and market economies.

Broken Pots Broken Dreams is suitable for courses concerned with subsistence and production, state intervention, contemporary China, and globalization, as well as courses in art and art history.

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Jingdezhen Timeline

The Song Jingde Emperor sees porcelain from Jingdezhen, and is so pleased by it he mandates that the town be renamed in his honor. Jingdezhen supplies porcelain to the imperial court.

1278: The Yuan Court establishes a Porcelain Bureau in Jingdezhen, to manage the making, firing, and distribution of porcelain.

1369: The Ming dynasty government builds an imperial porcelain manufactory in Jingdezhen. This manufactory remains the official site of porcelain production for the emperor through the fall of the Qing dynasty.

1911: Fall of the Qing dynasty.

1920s – 1940s: Porcelain production in Jingdezhen is largely left to private interests.

1949: The government of the People’s Republic of China takes control of Jingdezhen’s private porcelain industry and the former imperial manufactory.

1956 – 1958: The government reforms the wage system for porcelain producers and nationalizes the industry, building ten large state enterprise porcelain factories, four city-government run porcelain factories, and numerous large and small collective factories.

1958 – mid-1990s: Jingdezhen’s porcelain industry is part of the planned economy. The state guarantees workers basic benefits, including a living wage, medical care, and retirement pensions.

1979: The Chinese Communist Party begins experimenting with market reforms in the countryside.

1990s: The Chinese Communist Party begins withdrawing support for state enterprise and collective factories all over the country, requiring them to operate by market principles.

1995 – 1998: China’s state enterprise and collective factories shut their doors, and massive layoffs of workers ensue. In Jingdezhen, the last state enterprise factory shuts its doors in 1998.

1998 – present: Porcelain production in Jingdezhen is fully marketized. Workers have no job security, no pensions, no medical care or insurance, no benefits. Most work by the piece or by the order. Those who can open small-scale private workshops and other enterprises, relying on family for labor and capital.