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Swedish Scholar Shares Life-long Love of Chinese Porcelain

Few people adore Chinese porcelain more than Jan-Erik Nilsson, a Swedish scholar of Chinese history.

In fact, he has gone as far as creating www.gotheborg.com for antique Chinese porcelain collectors, which has arguably become the largest such website in the West.

The website receives more than 120,000 visits per month and ranks as a top site as a result of searches for "Chinese porcelain" on Google, Yahoo! and MSN.

Besides offering a wide array of information about Chinese porcelain, Nilsson provides his own answers to numerous questions that visitors pose in relation to collecting classical Chinese porcelain.

In an e-mail interview with China Daily before he came to Beijing over the weekend for the exhibition of Chinese porcelain from Sweden at the Forbidden City, he said he became fascinated with the china at a young age.

"Already as a very small boy I learnt that there were two kinds of porcelain 'porcelain' and 'genuine porcelain'," he said.

"To be 'genuine' it must have been made in China. I understood it was as precious as gold and jewellery and decided that I wanted to know more about this."

He recalled searching his home for some pieces of this 'genuine' porcelain when he was about 7 or 8 years of age, "to my mother's dismay."

"I also remember I specifically looked for marks under the bases," he recalled. "Unfortunately there were very few to be found."

When he was a little bigger he began to visit antique shops.

"I will never forget the awe I felt when I for the first time held a small blue and white Chinese porcelain bowl in my hands, and had the shop owner over and over again ensure me that it was really genuine Ming porcelain," he said.

"I could not believe there were such things for sale. This fragile porcelain bowl had travelled to be able to rest in my hands with the brush strokes of an unknown artist frozen for eternity inside the thick and softly undulating glaze," he said.

Still glistening in a soft cobalt blue; a man-made jewel in a shop in Gothenburg, Sweden.

"I was truly stunned by the realization that this hard porcelain piece was made in China, at a time when we at best ate on wooden dishes here in Northern Europe."

From then on, he said, he looked at, read about and handled as many pieces of antique Chinese porcelain as he could, starting to build a modest collection.

Over the years he has had many teachers who have shown him endless patience.

The one he owes the most to is the late Professor Bo Gyllensvard, in whose company he visited Beijing in 1991 and 1992.

According to Nilsson, the fundamental base in Sweden for collectors of Chinese porcelain is the large volume of exported porcelain resting in the homes of the Swedes since the days of the Swedish-Chinese trading company the Swedish East India Company (1731-1813).

The more advanced Swedish specialist collections created in the early 20th century were built on a genuine interest and admiration for the Chinese people and the Chinese scholars, rather than the Emperor, Nilsson said.

The Swedish scholars also looked beyond the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and expanded their research into China's Neolithic period, early bronzes, Song ceramics, Tang silver and gold, and white monochrome wares.

Nilsson asserts: "Chinese imperial porcelain as such has never been a major focus in Swedish collections.

"We wanted to know and we wanted to help but first we needed to understand," he said.

(China Daily September 27, 2005)

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