Color in Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Chinese imperial porcelain is a result of com­plex interactions among the requirements of ritual, the aspirations of taste, and the possibilities of technology. As the Son of Heaven, the emperor was charged with maintaining harmony within a universe precisely defined by element, property, color, direction, season, and number. The appearance of imperial porcelain made for use in the temples, reception halls, and private chambers of the palace complex, like that of the costumes and other regalia, conformed to care­fully formulated regulations that took into account season, setting, rank, and occasion.

Porcelains designated for use in the residences of hierarchically ranked imperial family members carried prescribed combinations of two or more colors, with diversity increasing as rank decreased. Thus, while "color" in its pure and aloof form was integral to the cosmological ordering of the imperial realm, "colorfulness" was a mark of informality, of quotidian luxuries and delights. "Colorful" polychrome porcelains depended not on regulations but on taste and on the scope of available technical possibilities.

*Eighteen days were subtracted from each of the other four seasons and set aside for the use of the Earth King, making each of the seasons seventy-two days long.

From Joined Colors: Decoration and Meaning in Chinese Porcelain, by Louise Allison Cort and fan Stewart. Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 1993.