An Usual Large Porcelain Dish, Guangxu Period 1875-1908. Decorated with a Classroom, Partially Covered by a Slopping Thatched Roof, with a Large Tree in the Center of the Court Yard. In the Background is a Pool, Book Shelves and Thickly Planted Bamboo. The Classroom is in a State of Total Disarray, an Elderly Teacher is Fast Asleep at his Desk, there is a Brushpot and a Book on His Table but a Boy is Reaching up to Mix Ink, a Boy Behind the Teacher is Pouring a Pot of Something Over the Teacher`s Head. Another Boy Looks Back at His Peer for Reassurance, but that Boy is the Only Child Working, Despite this he Dangles a Toy Spider on to the Head of His Teacher, His Hand Covers His Mouth Indicating Awareness of Act of Foolishness. To the Left of the Boy Working is a Boy Flat on His Back on a Table Balancing a Stool on one Foot While Another Boy Folds a Piece of Paper. Beneath the Tree in the Foreground There are Five More Boys Misbehaving, Two Boys are Painting a Fish, in the Middle a Boy Jumps About with an Orange Flag, on the Far Left a Boy with a Ribbon Around His Head and a Scroll Draped Around His Shoulders Watches Another Boy Doing Something Naughty.
Like so many Chinese porcelain designs the scene on the present dish is a development of an earlier subject. Designs with boys at play have been popular since the 15th century. These designs, most of which are decorated in blue and white, often occurring on bowls, have lively scenes of boys playing with kites, lighting fireworks or apple bobbing, as well as numerous other pursuits. This large dish, produced at a period of great cultural and political anxiety is rather different, it includes a teacher, the boys are not just playing they are turning Confusion ideals on there head. This playfully anarchical scene was made at the very end of the Qing period when Guangxu was looking for inspiration from beyond China`s borders to repair and developed China, to make the country strong again. With the military defeats of the 1890s the pressure to develop a national school system mounted. In 1898 Guangxu began the `Hundred Days Reform`, with a series of sweeping political, legal, and social changes. This dish is in no way a Ming revival, it is very much of it`s time but it could possibly be seen as longing for a more ordered time in history when confusion values were stronger.