Maris Gillette

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2013/2014
discipline Anthropology
Professor of Anthropology Haverford College

Research project

Firing China: Jingdezhen's Porcelain Workers


During the EURIAS fellowship year I will finish my manuscript Firing China: Jingdezhen’s Porcelain Workers. The town of Jingdezhen, known to many as China’s porcelain capital, is arguably the world’s most important ceramics industry.  Ever since Jingdezhen porcelain caught the attention of the Song dynasty Jingde emperor (who gave the town its name) in 1004, successive Chinese governments have patronized and supported Jingdezhen's ceramics industry.  In Firing China I trace the long history of government involvement in the town, arguing that state intervention in porcelain production has been the single most important factor affecting the lives of local ceramics producers.  How and where ceramists work, who they work with and what they do, how much they make and how they view their jobs, what they aspire to and what values they profess, are now and have for centuries been directly influenced by the nature of government intervention in porcelain production.

Each chapter of Firing China begins with a dramatic fictional narrative about people who make or use Jingdezhen porcelain, to enhance readers’ personal identification with the historical and ethnographic materials on which the book is based and convey a sense of what it felt like to make, own, or sell porcelain at specific historical moments.  I use archival records in Chinese and English, oral histories (in Chinese), ethnographic field research that I conducted in Jingdezhen between 2004 and 2010, and secondary scholarship to show how the relationship between the central government and Jingdezhen’s ceramists shaped porcelain producers’ opportunities, aspirations, values, and social practices from imperial times to the 21st century.  In the first chapter I consider state support from 1004 to 1850.  Each subsequent chapter focuses on a progressively shorter period: the industry’s decline from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, the high socialist period, and the early days of privatization in the part-command, part-market economy, until I conclude with 2004-2010, the period during which I conducted ethnography in Jingdezhen.  Firing China not only presents the struggles and resourcefulness, transformations and enduring traditions of Jingdezhen’s ceramists as they fire china under successive government regimes, it also combines history with ethnography, story-telling with nonfiction, and economic research with anthropology to analyze the history and economy of this famous and influential industry.



Maris Gillette is Professor and Chair of Anthropology and Concentration Coordinator of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Haverford College. She has been doing ethnographic field research in Jingdezhen since 2003, trying to understand the lives of ordinary porcelain industry workers and how they have been affected by China's shift from a planned to a market economy. She began working in documentary film to enhance opportunities for community engagement and make her work more accessible to the general public. She holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Harvard University.


Her research interests include capitalism; anthropology of the person; memory, history and narrative; visual culture; anthropology of Islam; urban Chinese Muslims, Hong Kong society and culture, and China. 

Selected publications


'Contemporary Jingdezhen's Porcelain Entrepreneurs', Landscapes in Blue - Made in China: The Vase Project, Lafayette University, Lafayette, 2012, pp. 45-54.


'A Chinese Case Study in Using Psychoanalysis for Ethnography', Southern Anthropologist, vol. 35, no. 2, 2011, pp. 69-83.


'Product and Process in Collaborative Media: Making Neighbors and Nature in Harmony', Practicing Anthropology, vol. 33, no. 1, 2010, pp. 14-17.


'Copying, Counterfeiting, and Capitalism in Jingdezhen's Porcelain Industry', Modern China, vol. 36, no. 4, 2010, pp. 367-403.


Between Mecca and Beijin/ Modernisation and Consumption among Urban Chinese Muslims, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2000.



senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
discipline Linguistics
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
discipline Literature
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
discipline Philosophy and Islamic Studies