Hong Bowl

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This large Chinese export bowl features a panoramic view of the hongs—the office, warehouse, and living spaces for foreign merchants in Canton, China, in the late 18th century. There European and American merchants traded with their Chinese counterparts for highly desirable teas, silks, and porcelains. The presence of the Stars and Stripes outside the American factory suggests that the bowl was made in or after 1785, following America’s entry into direct trade with China in 1784. (Note that the Chinese artist painted the stars in blue on the white porcelain background, probably for technical reasons rather than in error.) The flags of France, Britain, Spain, Denmark, and Sweden also can be seen outside their respective factories. Punch bowls depicting the hongs were exotic souvenir items, brought back to America by the East Coast entrepreneurs who sailed to China as independent merchants, thereby breaking dependence on the British East India Company to provide the former colonies with tea and other luxury goods.
The Chinese produced bowls like this in the town of Jingdezhen in southern China specifically for the western market. Undecorated, they were carried five hundred miles overland to Canton, where enamel decoration was applied in workshops close to the hongs. On completion a large bowl like this was packed in a crate with several others and dispatched through the hongs. All goods for export were ferried in the small boats seen painted on this bowl, to the deep-water port of Whampoa farther down the Pearl River.
A large bowl of this kind would have been used to serve punch. The word “punch” is thought to derive from the Hindu word “pànch,” meaning “five”—for the number of ingredients used to make the brew.The custom of drinking punch reached the West through the East India trade. Punch bowls became indispensable at convivial male gatherings in the clubs, societies, and private homes of the port cities on the American East Coast in the late 18th century.
The Smithsonian Institution acquired this bowl in 1961 from dealer Herbert Schiffer. Before coming to the Smithsonian, the bowl had been broken and repaired, and then it was heavily damaged in a 1958 fire. After the fire Helen Kean, a specialist in the restoration of ceramics, reconstructed the bowl from shattered fragments. Once it came to the Smithsonian, conservators performed a radical restoration, referring to very similar hong bowls held in collections at the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum in Delaware, and the Reeves Collection at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.
Date made
18th century
date made
place made
Physical Description
ceramic (overall material)
porcelain (overall material)
hard-paste (overall material)
overall: 160 mm x 406 mm; 6 5/16 in x 16 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
Cultures & Communities
Artifact Walls exhibit
Domestic Furnishings
American Enterprise
American Enterprise
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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