Chinese translation by Chao Huang
The more it is researched, Chinese Export Silver is shown to be by far the most complex and diverse silver category. It is virtually impossible to pick up an item of this silver without it being far more than what its outward appearance conveys. Picking up a piece of Chinese Export Silver is tantamount to holding a hand grenade that is so packed with a diversity of history, culture and artistic merit that it is ready to explode and reveal its secrets.
While the name it has been saddled with is more a misnomer than anything approaching an appropriate title, it is one that has stuck for the past 50 years or so, for Chinese Export Silver was not necessarily made for what it now says on the can. Despite a period of 60 years at the end of the 18th century up until around 1840 when a significant amount of neo-classical silver was made ostensibly for the “export market”, much of the silver prior to that and afterwards was made for consumption in China either by Western residents or the rising Chinese middle class.
It is only recently the amount of collated research has revealed some of the identities of what had been considered by the West as the ‘makers’ – most were not makers, they were retail silversmiths or merchant traders of which silver was just one of the specialist commodities. But identifying the person behind the silver mark can often take one on an unexpected journey through time and place. One such a silver mark is Chong Woo of Hong Kong.