Qianjiang means literally "light umber" and is a Yuan Dynasty literati painting on paper style where the landscapes are outlined with ink and complemented by strokes of pale umber to designate the lit areas of the landscape. Qianjiang enamels was applied directly on the white glazed porcelain surface, giving the decoration the appearance of watercolor painting on silk or paper.
The decorations are pale in coloration and delicate in feeling, in sharp contrast to the richly almost gaudily painted porcelain of the time.
Qianjiang painting on porcelain flourished in the latter half of the 19th century up to the early Republic Period around 1910. Objects decorated in this style includes brush pots, tea wares, bowls, hat stands etc where a significant proportions being flat porcelain plaques made to be fitted into screens or furniture.
When the style was introduced on porcelains it was used mainly for landscapes with mountains (Shan) and waters (Shui) in a particular color scheme: ink for mass, tree trunks and areas in the shade, and a reddish brown for foliage, water and elements in the light. Eventually when the style got popular and more artist adopted the idea of copying traditional paintings onto porcelain, the decorations fetched their inspiration from more styles than qianjiang however the name has been kept to encompass all styles.
The pioneers and most famous qianjiang painters on porcelain in the Tongzhi (1862-1874) and Guangxu (1875-1908) periods were Wang Shaowei, Jin Pinqing and Chen Men.
On this literati style of decorations the enamels seems to have been mixed by the artists themselves to arrive at the right look and feel they wanted, maybe disregarding some of the technical wisdom needed for the durability of the enamels. This has led to that many of the earlier pieces are left with little or none of the original enamels left.