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Selected Passages from the

Letters of Père d'Entrecolles

Being the first detailed accounts of the manufacture
of Chinese porcelain to reach the West.

INTRODUCTION

The letters of Père Francois Xavier d'Entrecolles provide a first-hand account of the manufacture of porcelain at Jingdezhen during the first quarter of the eighteenth century. Père d'Entrecolles was a French Jesuit missionary who lived from 1664 to 1741. Two of his letters, the first written in 1712 and the second in 1722 are the first and most important early accounts to arrive to the West on Chinese porcelain.

The two letters were translated from the French and published in William Burton's Porcelain, It's Art and Manufacture, B.T. Batsford, London, 1906. The text here originally came from this version, but while being double-checked towards the version of the same text occuring in Brieven van pater d'Entrecolles by D. F. Lunsing Scheurleer, Caneletto, Alphen aan den Rijn, 1982, it became obvious that the errors and omissions were so grave as to render the text useless. For the current version the original French text as reproduced by Scheurleer (1982) has been used together with the english version translated by Robert Tichane (1983). The current version that appears here are transcribed by Cheryl Marie Cordeiro and corrected and commmented by myself to the final version as it appears here.

In this version names and concepts has been modernized where this could safely be done without risk of losing any information at all. Original names in the original text are given once in its original form within [square brackets], and thereafter only in Pinyin. The biographical data on Father d'Entrecolles are culled mostly from Tichane (1983, p.43) who does not mention his sources.

Françoise Xavier d’Entrecolles (1664-1741)

Françoise Xavier d’Entrecolles, was born in Lyon France, 1664. He entered the company of Jesus in 1682 and went to China in 1698. At first he was missionary to Yangxi, where he was quickly appreciated by all for his profound knowledge of the Chinese language, his friendly personality, his understanding of Chinese customs and his apostolic spirit.

The first letter from Pere d’Entrecolles was sent on September 1, 1712 from [Jao zhou] Raozhou in Jiangxi province, to Father Orry of the Company of Jesus. The second letter was sent January 25, 1722 from the city of Jingdezhen. Father d'Entrecolles entire career and stay in China was within the reign period of the Kangxi emperor (1662-1722), early in the Qing dynasty. After the close of this reign the Roman Catholic missions were forced to close and no more first hand descriptions of Jingdezhen were possible. To a certain extent, his two letters represent an autobiography in themselves.

By the interwoven descriptions of the people, the city, the history and the ceramics of Jingdezhen one can identify the interests, the sensitivities and even the sense of humor of Pere d’Entrecolles.

He was made general superior of the French mission from 1706 – 19 and superior of the French residence in Beijing from 1722 – 32. He composed several apologetic works in Chinese in defense of the faith and he translated a number of Chinese works for P. du Halde. Several of his letters were published in "Edifying and Unusual Letters", but those that dealt with the manufacture of porcelain appeared first in the memoirs of Trevoux and the Journal of Scholars.

Along with the preoccupation and accounting of the evangelical work, one also finds in his correspondence an astonishingly precise documentation on the arising of silkworms, the manufacture of artificial flowers, and synthetic pearls, and on the inoculation for smallpox by means of oral methods. P du Halde inserted in his Description of China a study of Chinese money that was probably drawn form a treatise written by d’Entrecolles for the Lyon library, but which is now lost.

Pere D’Entrecolles died in Peking on July 2, 1741.

Jan-Erik Nilsson

For a intermediate edition of the Letters, from 2006, please download the pdf-file as prepared by Nick and Anne Hopton, Caversham, Reading, England in 2006.

The two letters by Peré d'Entrecolle were translated from the French and published in William Burton's Porcelain, It's Art and Manufacture, B.T. Batsford, London, 1906. The text here is from the original and double-checked towards the version of the same text occuring in Brieven van pater d'Entrecolles by D. F. Lunsing Scheurleer, Caneletto, Alphen aan den Rijn, 1982. The errors and omissions occuring in other versions of this text are so grave that I would like to advice against using any other transcriptions than the original or this version, published here only.
The pages as they appear on this webpage are copyright © Jan-Erik Nilsson, Gotheborg.com, Sweden 2007, 2010