Chinese porcelain enjoys a long
history. In ancient time, like silk, Chinese porcelain was the main
exporting article of China. Chinese porcelain is one important part
of Chinese culture and history. It is the wisdom crystallization
of Chinese nation.
To some extent we can say the pottery was the forerunner of Chinese
porcelain. After the invention of pottery in the Neolithic period,
(5000-2200 BC), the ancient Chinese succeeded in producing painted
pottery, black pottery and carved pottery. The long time of experience
in kiln firing led China entering into a new ceramic age in the
Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) although archaeological finds have revealed
that glazed pottery was produced as early as the Western Zhou Dynasty
(1100-771 BC), yet the production of glazed wares was not common
until the Han Dynasty.
An obvious change in the attitude of figure modeling in the Six
Dynasties (265-588 AD.) was the inclination to include more details,
an effort to make the models look more real. Six Dynasties potters
also succeeded in improving the quality of early celadon wares both
in glaze color and in body clay. The production of glazed proto-porcelain
was a significant achievement in Chinese ceramic history.
During the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907AD), a large number of porcelain
wares were in daily use. Chinese patterns on these wares also took
on more exotic appeal. The Yue and De kiln of Zhejiang Province
had features that were the most popular ones, and another one, Xing
kiln in Hebei Province was greatly prized for its white porcelain
as 'white like snow'. Kilns baking porcelain for the royalty sprang
up producing elegant and dainty works. The major contribution made
by Tang dynasty was the production of sancai, or tri-color pottery
figurines. Tang pottery figurines comprised three major categories,
namely human figures, animals and fabulous tomb guards.
In the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279AD), a variety of genres of porcelain
appeared and it became a fashion that people showed great interest
in purchasing and collecting certain wares suitable to their tastes.
Ru, Ding, Ge, Jun and the official kilns had been the representatives
of that age. Official kilns advocated concise patterns of decoration;
Ru kiln in Hebei Province added treasured agate into glaze so that
the color and texture appeared to be uniquely daintily creamy and
could be compared with jade. Henan Province had two famous kilns
named Jun and Ding kilns. Since the reign of Emperor Huizong who
liked art appreciation, porcelain of Jun kiln was kept exclusively
for the royal family. Since the artisans made their porcelain wares
separately, there was no repetition among decorative patterns and
colors. Thus this made each porcelain product more precious in its
own right. Ding kiln boasted its white porcelain which has a texture
as delicate as that of ivory with an adornment of black and purple
glaze. Distinctive from the other four kilns which stressed color,
this one was quite good at engraving and printing flower patterns.
While the Ge Kiln produced porcelain articles with various grains
and produced an amount of artworks greater than those of the other
The production of blue and white porcelain appeared
at the end of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368AD). Cobalt was applied
in the porcelain industry.
In Yong Le reign (1403-1424), both the potting and glazing techniques
improved and wares attained a whiter body and richer blue than those
of Yuan dynasty ware. The underglaze blue of the Yong Le wares and
Xuan De (1426-1435AD) wares noted for their rich blue tone. Throughout
the Ming dynasty, dragon and phoenix were the most popular decorative
motifs on ceramic wares. Other animals, plant forms, and human figures
in garden and interior setting were often used as decors for blue
and white wares. It has been noted that after Wan Li (1573-1620AD),
very few ceramic wares of the Ming dynasty bear reign marks.
The fashionable Wucai wares of Jia Jing (1522-1566) and Wan Li (1573-1620)
periods are usually fully covered with colorful patterns. Very often
the colors are a bit too heavy. The colors used include red, yellow,
light and dark green, brown, aubergine and underglaze blue. In Ming
dynasty, a variety of porcelain wares were decorated with motifs
coming up on colored ground instead. They included wares with green
glazed pattern on a yellow ground, yellow glazed pattern on a blue
ground, green glazed pattern on a red ground and other color combinations.
Another remarkable category of colored wares produced in the Ming
dynasty was the Sancai or 'tri-color'. The major three colors are
yellow, green and aubergine. Tri-color wares of the Ming dynasty
appeared in the reigns of Xuan De, Jia Jing and Wan Li.
The peak of Chinese ceramic production was seen in the reigns of
Kang Xi (1622-1722AD), Yong Zheng (1723-1735AD) and Qian Long (1736-1796AD)
of the Qing dynasty during which improvement was seen in almost
all ceramic types, including the blue and white wares, polychrome
wares, wucai wares, etc. The improved enamel glazes of early Qing
dynasty being fired at a higher temperature also acquired a more
brilliant look than those of the Ming dynasty. The production of
Doucai wares in the Yong zheng period reached new height both in
quantity and technical perfection.
The use of Fencai enamel for decorating porcelain wares was first
introduced in Kang xi period. The production of fencai enamel wares
reached a mature stage in the Yong zheng era. As the improved fencai
enamels had a wider range of colors and each could be applied in
a variety of tones, they could be used to depict some of the highly
complicated pictorial compositions of flower and plant forms, figures
and even insects.
When Qing was taken over by the Republic of China (about 1909-1915
AD), the official kilns were closed. In their places, private kilns
were established by the operators and artists who previously worked
in the official kilns. With their expertise, they produced high
quality porcelain wares, such as the 'export porcelain wares made
during the transition of Ming to Qing', which earned a high praise
in overseas markets, and the excellent imitations of Sung, Yuan
and Qing wares are made during "the early stage of the Republic
of China," which were almost true to the originals.
After the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, social
stability led to the renewal of the porcelain industry. The industry
has re-gained its previous glory and is enjoying prosperity.
Chinese porcelain is famous for its varied shapes, attracting colors
and exquisite workmanship. It has high artistic value and practical
function. So it is very welcomed by people from all over the world.
and White Porcelain