Chinese Reign Marks Found On Antiques Identified

Zhengde reign mark

Chinese reign marks and understanding them can be a confusing process. Some Chinese porcelains, bronzes, jades, paintings anboxes have them and many (most) do not, and when they do they are as a general rule most of the time inaccurate.

Reign marks have been misapplied to objects basically throughout China’s history from the time they were first used onward. So always take them with a grain of salt. 

An object, regardless of whether it’s a porcelain, bronze, painting, or scholar’s object should “tell you” its age on its own by its shape, use of colors, execution of design, and material characteristics. 

A few basics on Chinese reign marks

Chinese reign marks represent the name an Emporer would assume upon ascending to the throne.  For example, prior to becoming the Emporer of China the Qing dynasty ruler Kangxi (ruled from 1662 to 1722) was known before his enthronement as Shengzu.  Remember, not all Reign marks found on objects are indicators Imperial ownership even when the object is from the appropriate period indicated by the mark. On those examples, it simply means the piece was made during the reign period of a specific Emporer. 

Reign marks are nearly exclusively found in four representations. 

  1. Six character script
  2. Six character square seal format.
  3. Four character script.
  4. Four character square seal format.

Square seal formats were not used to mark objects until the Qing dynasty. 

chinese reign marks
Qing Dynasty marks
chinese reign marks ming
Chinese reign marks, Ming Dynasty

Chinese reign marks by date and period.

Qing Dynasty 1644 to 1912

Guangxu Reign Marks on Porcelain (1875-1908)

Tongzhi Marks 1862 to 1874

Xianfeng Reign Marks on Porcelain (1851-1861)

Daoguang Reign Marks on Porcelain (1821 to 1850)

Jiaqing Reign Marks on Porcelain (1796 to 1820)

Qianlong Reign Marks on Porcelain (1736 to 1795)

Yongzheng Reign Marks on Porcelain (1723 to 1735)

Kangxi Reign Marks on Porcelain (1661 to 1722)

Shunzhi (1644 to 1661), Chongzhen (1628-1643 and Tianqi (1621-1627) Reign Marks on Porcelain

Late Ming to Early Qing Reign Marks

These marks are nearly unknown.  When found they are invariably on 19th-20th C. porcelains and objects.  Most marks found on porcelains from these periods, if any,  are from earlier in the Ming dynasty, in particular from the Jiajing period

Ming Dynasty

Wanli (1573-1619) Reign Marks on Porcelain

Longqing (1567-1572) Reign Marks on Porcelain

Chinese Porcelain Reign Marks: Lonqing period

An extremely short reign lasting only a few years with little porcelain output. This was a period of economic turmoil in China following the financially disastrous reign of the Jiajing emperor.

Jiajing (1522-1566) Reign Marks on Porcelain

Zhengde (1506-1521) Reign Marks on Porcelain

Hongzhi (1488-1505) Reign Marks on Porcelain

Chenghua (1465-1487) Reign Marks on Porcelain

Xuande (1426-1435) Reign Marks on Porcelain

Yongle (1403-1424) Reign Marks

Yongle reign marks were almost never applied to porcelains but were used on bronzes, particularly Buddhist examples.