Chinese Porcelain

Porcelain and ceramic ware is a form of art that has been progressing in China for the last eleven-thousand years; this is partially due to the abundance of necessary raw materials in the region. The said ceramics are not simply composed of clay pots, but rather a sundry of entities; these range from construction materials to simple pottery and even erudite porcelain commodities for the imperial court.



According to the Chinese, porcelain is a unique type of ceramic. It is distinct from earthenware and stoneware in that the temperature at which it is fired is higher than both the former and the latter. The earliest Chinese dictionaries recognize porcelain as ‘fine, compact pottery’. Presently, there are two distinct manufacturing processes for porcelain: northern and southern. These approaches differ in the available raw materials for producing ceramics. Materials that are characteristically used for Chinese porcelain are Kaolin, a derivative of the clay mineral kaolinite; Pottery Stone, which is decomposed feldspar rocks; Feldspar; and Quartz.

Given that porcelain lacks a straightforward definition, it is therefore problematic to assign a specific period of time to its genesis. The earliest known Chinese ceramic fragments that have been found as of yet date to approximately nine-thousand BC. These were made by stacking coils of clay and firing in bonfires. During this early stage, coarse styles of pottery were commonly manufactured for everyday use; thinner, finer styles of pottery were also made for special occasions or rituals. A number of experts in the matter consider the first true piece of porcelain was not made until about 202 BC in the Zhejiang region. The reason for which this period has been deemed the foundation of the porcelain industry is because the Zhejiang province was the first area that had a significant amount of building materials available. Nearly two-hundred years later, the Chinese began making both low-fired and high-fired ceramics for different purposes; these are not entirely clear. At this time, they first became capable of producing clay-ware that was almost as translucent as glass. In the one-thousand years that followed, the Chinese bore witness to an astounding period of innovation in regards to ceramic manufacture. They began experimenting with new designs and shapes, as well as becoming more open toward foreign structures. It is perhaps for this reason that the period shifted into a market economy, thus exporting porcelain around the world.

There are ten manifestations of Chinese porcelain that have been created throughout history. The first of these is Sancai, which means three colors. Sancai was fashioned in the north, where Kaolin was plentiful. Decorated Sancai porcelain was typically given the moniker ‘egg and spinach’ because of its green, yellow, and white glazing. Subsequently, Jian tea wares emerged from the depths of the earth. This sort of pottery was made from iron-rich clays and fired with several thousand other pieces in massive kilns. Jian was typically glazed black, because, according to residents of the time, tea looks best in black cups. Ding ware is another form of Chinese porcelain. It was the finest porcelain produced in northern China after 940, and was the first to enter the imperial palace officially for royal use. It was usually glazed in white, with a minimalistic design theme that ordinarily included only a stamp. Ru ware was another type of porcelain created for imperial use. The glaze used on Ru ware has small amounts of iron in it, which oxidize and turn green when fired at the kiln. This glaze cools and contracts faster than the pottery itself, thus causing crackles or “crazing” to appear. Another style of northern porcelain was Jun ware. It was epitomized by a thicker body than Ding or Ru ware. The pottery was covered with a thick, purple and turquoise glaze. Guan, meaning official, is the collective term employed to describe pottery that was used for imperial purposes.

The next type of Chinese porcelain is called Ge, meaning big brother, which references a legend about the porcelain’s origins. A common myth states that two brothers competed with one another to create better pottery. The younger brother made typical Guan ware, while the older one produced similar, but supposedly better porcelain in his private kiln. Ge ware is relatively indistinguishable from Guan; however, there are two distinct types of the ceramic. One of these varieties has a yellow glaze and two sets of crackles, while the other type has a gray glaze and only one set of crackles. Qingbai is one of the first prominent southern Chinese wares. The word literally means clear blue-white in Chinese, which references the green-blue tint that the glaze creates. All of the aforementioned assortments of Chinese porcelain are not familiar to the lot of us, however. The next sort of porcelain is. This type of Chinese porcelain is commonly known as blue and white porcelain, and is the variety that China has come to be known for. These blue and white wares are glazed in a transparent mixture that allows the underlying blue decoration to show through. Only three complete pieces of this variety are known to exist, but hundreds of shards have been found. The final variety of Chinese porcelain is known as Blanc de Chine. It is a type of white porcelain that was commonly formed into figurines, boxes, vases, jars, cups and bowls, flowerpots, lamps, and teapots. Blanc de Chine is still produced today in factories; these production facilities make figurines and tableware in many modern designs.