The Chinese term for porcelain covers a wide range of high-fired ceramics, some of which may not be recognized as porcelain by Western definitions. Porcelain is usually ''green-fired'' or ''once-fired'', which means that the body and the are fired together. After the body of a piece is formed and finished it is dried, coated with a glaze, dried again and fired. In the high temperature of the kiln the body and the glaze are fused together to become a unit. Chinese led wares are also produced in this way, except enamels are added after the first high-temperature firing. The pieces are then fired again in a second round via a smaller, lower-temperature kiln.
The Chinese tradition recognises only two primary categories of ceramics, high-fired and low-fired . The define porcelain as "fine, compact pottery" . In the West the property of is often regarded as a defining feature of porcelain, but this is not the case in China, where any thick or piece that rings with a reasonably clear note on being struck would be regarded as porcelain .
In the context of Chinese ceramics the term ''porcelain'' lacks a universally accepted definition. This in turn has led to confusion about when the first Chinese porcelain was made. Claims have been made for the late period , the Three Kingdoms period , the Six Dynasties period , and the Tang Dynasty .
Fragments of pottery vessels dating from around the year 9000 BC found at the Xianrendong site, Wannian County, in the province of Jiangxi represent some of the earliest known Chinese ceramics. The wares were hand-made by coiling and fired in bonfires. Decorations include impressed cord marks, and features produced by stamping and by piercing.
The Xianrendong site was occupied from about 9000 BC to about 4000 BC. During this period two types of pottery were made. The first consisted of coarse-bodied wares possibly intended for everyday use. The second being finer, thinner-bodied wares possibly intended for ritual use or special occasions. There is archaeological evidence suggesting that both types of wares were produced at the same time at some point.
Some experts believe the first true porcelain was made in the of Zhejiang during the Eastern Han period. Chinese experts emphasize the presence of a significant proportion of porcelain-building minerals as an important factor in defining ''porcelain''. recovered from archaeological Eastern Han kiln sites estimated firing temperature ranged from 1260 to 1300. As far back as 1000 BC, the so-called ''"Porcelaneous wares"'' or ''"proto-porcelain wares"'' were made using at least some kaolin fired at high temperatures. The dividing the line between the two and ''true porcelain wares'' is not a clear one.
Sui and Tang dynasty
During the and periods a wide range of ceramics, low-fired and high-fired, were produced. These included the well-known Tang lead-glazed ''sancai'' wares, the high-firing, lime-glazed ''Yue'' celadon wares and low-fired wares from ''Changsha''. In northern China, high-fired, translucent porcelains were made at kilns in the provinces of Henan and Hebei.
One of the first mentions of porcelain by a foreigner was made by an Arabian traveler during the Tang Dynasty who recorded that:
The Arabs were aware of the materials necessary to create glass ware, and he was certain it was not the usual glass material.
Song and Yuan dynasty
The city of Jingdezhen has been a central place of production since the early Han Dynasty. In 1004 established the city as the main production hub for Imperial porcelain. During the and dynasties, porcelain made in the city and other southern China kiln sites used crushed and refined porcelain stones alone.
Two letters written by , a Jesuit missionary and industrial spy who lived and worked in Jingdezhen in the early eighteenth century, described in detail manufacturing of porcelain in the city, see: . In his first letter dating 1712, d'Entrecolles described the way in which porcelain stones were crushed, refined and formed into little white bricks, known in Chinese as ''petuntse''. He then went on to describe the refining of china clay ''kaolin'' along with the developmental stages of glazing and firing. He explained his motives:
In 1743, during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor, Tang Ying, the imperial supervisor in the city produced a memoir entitled ''"Twenty illustrations of the manufacture of porcelain."'' Unfortunately, the original illustrations have been lost, but the text of the memoir is still accessible.
Jingdezhen became the main production centre for large-scale starting with the reign of the Wanli emperor from 1572 to 1620.
By this time china clay and porcelain stone were mixed in about equal proportions. China clay produced wares of great strength when added to the body layer. Whiteness became a much sought after property, especially when combined to form blue-and-white wares. Porcelain stone was used with lower temperature of 1250 in the region. Compared to those mixed with china clay, which required 1350°C. The large southern egg-shaped kiln varied greatly in temperature. Near the firebox it was hot. Near the chimney, at the opposite end of the kiln, it was cooler.
Chinese porcelain wares
Tang ''Sancai'' burial wares
''Sancai'' means ''three-colours''. However, the colours of the glazes used to decorate the wares of the Tang dynasty were not limited to three in number. In the West, Tang sancai wares were sometimes referred to as ''egg-and-spinach'' by dealers for the use of green, yellow and white. Though the latter of the two colours might be more properly described as ''amber'' and ''off-white'' / ''cream''.
Sancai wares were northern wares made using white and buff-firing secondary kaolins and fire clays . At kiln sites located at , Neiqui county in Hebei and Gongxian in Henan ) were made at Jingdezhen and at many other southern kilns from the time of the Northern Song Dynasty until they were eclipsed in the 14th century by underglaze-decorated blue and white wares. Qingbai in literally means "clear blue-white". The qingbai glaze is a ''porcelain glaze'', so-called because it was made using porcelain stone. The qingbai glaze is clear, but contains iron in small amounts. When applied over a white porcelain body the glaze produces a greenish-blue colour that gives the glaze its name. Some have incised or moulded decorations.
The Song dynasty qingbai bowl illustrated was likely made at the Jingdezhen village of Hutian, which was also the site of the Imperial kilns established in the year 1004. The bowl has incised decoration, possibly representing clouds or the reflection of clouds in the water. The body is white, translucent and has the texture of very-fine sugar, indicating that it was made using crushed and refined porcelain stone instead of porcelain stone and china clay. The glaze and the body of the bowl would have been fired together, in a , possibly in a large wood-burning dragon-kiln or , typical of southern kilns in the period.
Though many Song and Yuan qingbai bowls were fired upside down in special segmented saggars, a technique first developed at the kilns in Hebei province. The rims of such wares were left unglazed but were often bound with bands of silver, copper or lead.
One remarkable example of ''qingbai'' porcelain is the so-called ''Fonthill Vase'', described in a guide for Fonthill Abbey published in 1823
The vase was made at Jingdezhen, probably around the year 1300 and was sent as a present to Pope Benedict XII by one of the last of China, in 1338. The mounts referred to in the 1823 description were of enamelled silver-gilt and were added to the vase in Europe in 1381. An 18th century water colour of the vase complete with its mounts exists, but the mounts themselves were removed and lost in the 19th century. The vase is now in the National Museum of Ireland. It is often held that ''qingbai'' wares were not subject to the higher standards and regulations of the other porcelain wares, since they were made for everyday use. They were mass-produced, and received little attention from scholars and antiquarians. The Fonthill Vase, given by a Chinese emperor to a pope, might appear to cast at least some doubt on this view.
Blue and white wares
Blanc de Chine
''Blanc de Chine'' is a type of white porcelain made at Dehua in the Fujian province. It has been produced from the Ming Dynasty to the present day. Large quantities arrived in Europe as Chinese Export Porcelain in the early 18th century and it was copied at Meissen and elsewhere.
The area along the Fujian coast was traditionally one of the main ceramic exporting centers. Over one-hundred and eighty kiln sites have been identified extending in historical range from the Song period to present.
From the Ming period porcelain objects were manufactured that achieved a fusion of glaze and body traditionally referred to as "ivory white" and "milk white." The special characteristic of Dehua porcelain is the very small amount of iron oxide in it, allowing it to be fired in an oxidising atmosphere to a warm white or pale ivory color.
The porcelain body is not very plastic but vessel forms have been made from it. Donnelly, lists the following types of product: figures, boxes, vases and jars, cups and bowls, fishes, lamps, cup-stands, censers and flowerpots, animals, brush holders, wine and teapots, Buddhist and Taoist figures, secular figures and puppets. There was a large output of figures, especially religious figures, e.g. Guanyin, Maitreya, and Ta-mo figures.
The numerous Dehua porcelain factories today make figures and tableware in modern styles. During the Cultural Revolution “Dehua artisans applied their very best skills to produce immaculate statuettes of the Great Leader and the heroes of the revolution. Portraits of the stars of the new proletarian opera in their most famous roles were produced on a truly massive scale.” Mao figures later fell out of favor but have been revived for foreign collectors.
Notable artists in ''blanc de Chine'', such as the late Ming period He Chaozong, signed their creations with their seals. Wares include crisply modeled figures, , bowls and joss stick-holders.
Many of the best examples of ''blanc de Chine'' are found in Japan where the white variety was termed ''hakugorai'' or "Korean white", a term often found in tea ceremony circles. The British Museum in London has a large number of ''blanc de Chine'' pieces, having received as a gift in 1980 the entire collection of P.J.Donnelly.
Fakes and reproductions
Chinese potters have a long tradition of borrowing design and decorative features from earlier wares. Whilst ceramics with features thus borrowed might sometimes pose problems of provenance, they would not generally be regarded as either reproductions or fakes. However, fakes and reproductions have also been made at many times during the long history of Chinese ceramics and continue to be made today in ever-increasing numbers.
* Reproductions of Song dynasty Longquan celadon wares were made at Jingdezhen in the early 18th century, but outright fakes were also made using special clay that were artificially aged by boiling in meat broth, refiring and storage in sewers. Père d'Entrecolles records that by this means the wares could be passed off as being hundreds of years old.
* At Jingdezhen the two remaining wood fired, egg-shaped kilns produce convincing reproductions of earlier wares. At Zhejiang province good reproductions of Song Longquan celedon wares continue to be made in large, side-stoked dragon kilns.
* Before World War II, the English potter Bernard Leach found what he took to be genuine Song dynasty ''cizhou'' rice-bowls being sold for very little money on the dock of a Chinese port and was surprised to learn that they were in fact newly made.
* In modern times the market for Song dynasty ''Jian'' tea-bowls has been severely depressed by the appearance in large numbers of modern fakes good enough to deceive even expert collectors. It is reported that some of these fakes show evidence of having had genuine Song dynasty ''iron-foot'' bases grafted onto newly made bodies.
* In the late 19th century fakes of Kangxi period ''famille noire'' wares were made that were convincing enough to deceive the experts of the day. Many such pieces may still be seen in museums today, as may pieces of genuine Kangxi porcelain decorated in the late nineteenth century with ''famille noire'' enamels. A body of modern expert opinion holds that porcelain decorated with ''famille noire'' enamels was not made at all during the Kangxi period, though this view is disputed .
* A fashion for Kangxi period blue and white wares grew to large proportions in Europe during the later years of the 19th century and triggered the production at Jingdezhen of large quantities of porcelain wares that strike a resemblance to ceramics of earlier periods. Such blue and white wares were not fakes or even convincing reproductions, even though some pieces carried four-character Kangxi reign-marks that continue to cause confusion to this day. Kangxi reign-marks in the form shown in the illustration occur only on wares made towards the end of the 19th century or later, without exception.
The most widely-known test is the thermoluminescence test, or TL test, which is used on some types of ceramic to estimate, roughly, the date of last firing. The TL test is carried out on small samples of porcelain drilled or cut from the body of a piece, which can be risky and disfiguring. For this reason, the test is rarely used for dating finely-potted, high-fired ceramics. TL testing cannot be used at all on some types of porcelain items, particularly high-fired porcelain.
Republic and People's Republic
*Ayers, J. and Bingling, Y., ''Blanc de Chine: Divine Images in Porcelain'', China Institute, New York
*Ayers, J and Kerr, R., , ''Blanc de Chine Porcelain from Dehua'', Art Media Resources Ltd.
*Donnelly, P.J. , ''Blanc de Chine'', Faber and Faber, London
*Harrison-Hall, J. , ''Ming Ceramics in the British Museum'', British Museum, London
*Kerr, Rose and Wood, Nigel . ''Science and Civilisation in China,'' Volume 5, Part XII: Ceramic Technology. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-83833-9.
* Kotz, Suzanne ''Imperial Taste. Chinese Ceramics from the Percival David Foundation.'' Chronicle Books, San Francisco. ISBN 0-87701-612-7.
*Moujian, S., ''An Encyclopedia of Chinese Art'', p. 292.
*Wood, N. , ''Chinese Glazes: Their Chemistry, Origins and Re-creation'', A & C Black, London, and University of Pennsylvania Press, USA