Antique Chinese Silver Serving/Soup Spoon,
Foochow (Fuzhou), China

This antique Chinese silver spoon bears an inscription to the reverse of the bowl in cursive script; “E.I.W. (possibly E.J.W.) Foochow, China, 1887”.  This is not necessarily the date when the spoon was actually made, as at this time, the donor would often select an existing item from their own possessions, have it specially engraved and present this as a gift, rather than purchasing a new item specifically for the purpose. Consequently, the date when the spoon was actually made is unclear, it could have been made around 1887 or many years earlier.

There are no silver marks but both the form of the spoon and the workmanship are Chinese.  The spoon has been decorated internally in repousse and chased techniques set against a finely punched background with a stylised flower applied to the tip of the handle.  A narrow plain border runs around the inside of the spoon close to the edge, continuing around the edges of the handle. The ovoid or egg-shaped area in the bottom of the bowl has been defined by a narrow plain border and contains a depiction of two stylised mythical Fenghuang (Hoho) birds amongst branches of prunus blossom.

It is most likely that the spoon was intended as an engagement or wedding present and presented to a British or American person.  Fenghuang birds symbolise the joining of yin and yang;   representing virtue and grace, they often appear in decorations for weddings.  The sides of the bowl and the top face of the handle have been ornamented with sprigs of foliage, flowers and butterflies.  Butterflies are also particularly associated with joy and weddings in Chinese art whilst the egg-shape in the base of the bowl is universally associated with weddings and seen as a symbol of procreation and fertility.

Many Americans and Europeans were living and working in Fuzhou in 1887.  When the First Opium War was concluded by the important Treaty of Nanjing (Nanking) in 1842, Fuzhou (Foochow) was named as one of five Chinese  treaty ports which became completely open to Western merchants and missionaries; European settlement quickly followed. Traders and merchants settled there first but from 1846 Fuzhou became one of the most important Protestant mission fields in China.  By 1850, three Protestant missionary societies had established bases there and these remained in Fuzhou until the Communist Revolution.

The Fuzhou Arsenal, also known as the Foochow or Mawei Arsenal, was one of several shipyards constructed in Qing dynasty China. It was situated in Mawei (Mamoi), a port town within the jurisdiction of Fuzhou (Foochow), several miles up the Min River.  Between 1867 and 1872, under the supervision of two French naval officers, a staff of about forty European engineers and mechanics was recruited to oversee the 1,000 – 2,000 Chinese labourers involved in constructing a metal-working forge, a Western-style naval dockyard, eleven transports, five gunboats and the establishment of a naval academy similar to those in Europe, offering training in navigation, marine engineering, technical sciences and European languages to future naval officers. 

During the Sino-French War of 1883-1885, this shipyard was almost entirely destroyed by French forces on 23rd August 1884 during the Battle of Fuzhou, when the Fujian Fleet, one of the four Chinese regional fleets, was completely destroyed in Mawei Harbor.  A humiliating defeat for the Chinese, this effectively ended Sino-French goodwill and provoked a backlash against the French and other Europeans in China for a short time thereafter.

Provenance:        European auction market

Size:                           Length:  6 cms, width: 5 cms

Weight:                   30.4 grammes




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