Developed on the basis of steady improvement in pottery-making technique, the beginning of Chinese porcelain can be traced back to the Shang Dynasty, which existed more than 3,000 years ago. Laboratory analysis shows that primitive porcelain articles discovered from Shang Dynasty sites are all made of kaolin, characterized by a surface coating of a high-temperature colored glaze that melts at temperatures above 1,200℃, particularly a coating of a delicate green glaze with iron as its coloring agent.
The Tang Dynasty(618-907) was the golden age of Chinese feudal society. China could produce during that period a wide range of porcelain articles including tea sets, tableware, wine vessels, stationery, toys, musical instruments and ornaments. In the Tang period, a distinct division in porcelain production appeared, with celadon in the south and white porcelain in the north. As long as that period, Chinese porcelain was transported by sea and land via the silk Road and sold abroad together with tea and silk. China was then known as the home of porcelain and in English the words china and porcelain are synonyms.
Chinese porcelain production reached its peak during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The best-known porcelain producers of that time were the Ding, Ru, Guan, Ge and Jun kilns. The first four produced monochrome porcelains and the last was esteemed for its decorative polychrome wares. During the reign of the Song emperor Zhao Heng, who ruled from 997-1022, the town of Fuliang in northeastern Jiangxi Province, Was made by imperial decree a center for fine porcelain. From that time on, Fuliang was known as Jingdezhen, after the emperor’s reign title, Jingde and the porcelain wares it produced were all marked with the words “Made in Jingdezhen”. Known as China’s capital of porcelain, Jingdezhen still boasts quite a few ancient potters’ workrooms and kilns, which attract many visitors from China and abroad every year.
During the Ming-Qing period (1368-1911), Chinese porcelain reached a level of excellence it had not seen before. Potters of that period not only produced porcelains with the best techniques inherited from the past but also developed polychrome wares.
China is the home of porcelain. Chinese porcelain is not only practical but also of very high esthetic value in terms of its shape, color and decoration.
Celadon, a famous type of ancient Chinese stoneware, came into being during the period of the Spring and Autumn (770B.C-476B.C). It is characterized by simple but refined shapes, jade-like glaze, solid substance and a distinctive style. As the celadon-ware produced in Longquan County, Zhejiang Province, is most valued, so it is also generally called Longquan greenish porcelain.
Its Chinese name, greenish porcelain , means “Qingci”, but why then is it known in the West as “celadon”?
Celadon was the hero of the French writer Honoré d’Urfe’s romance L’Astré (1610), the lover of the Heroine Astré. He was presented as a young man in green and his dress became all the rage in Europe. And it was just about this time that the Chinese greenish porcelain made its debut in Paris and won acclaim. People compared its color to Celadon’s suit and started to call the porcelain “celadon”, a name which has stuck and spread to other countries.
Now, new products of Longquan greenish porcelain have been developed to radiate with fresh luster; they include eggshell china and underglaze painting.
Overglaze painting is executed on a fired clay body covered with a fired glaze and then heated at a temperature of about 800℃. It looks like embossed on the piece and you can feel it when passing your fingers over it. Porcelains with overglaze decoration include wucai (polychrome) and enameled wares.
Underglaze decoration is applied to the biscuit ware before glazing and subsequently covered with a transparent glaze. Fired at a high temperature in one operation, the ware is smooth and its colors, which contain no lead and poisonous substances, are bright and never fade.
Porcelains with underglaze decoration include underglaze blue, underglaze red, underglaze three-color and underglaze fire-color wares. Underglaze blue wares produced by China’s ceramic center at Jingdezhen during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties (1206-1911) are well known throughout the world and are considered as a representative genre of Chinese porcelain.
Blue and White Ware
Blue and white ware is one of the four best known products of Jingdezhen, China’s ceramic center in northeastern Jiangxi Province. It is white porcelain decorated with blue painted under the glaze. Underglaze blue was known as early as the Tang Dynasty (618-907), but its successful use was not achieved until the Yuan (1206-1368) and the Ming (1368-1644) dynasties. The coloring agent for blue and white ware is cobalt oxide and the decoration is done on the body before the glaze is fired at a temperature above 1,200℃.
In the late Yuan Dynasty, cobalt was introduced firstly from Persian area and widely loved by the Mongolian rulers, items for the blue and white porcelain are basically large and one of the late Yuan porcelain jar called “Guiguzi descend from the mountain” had created one of the highest price for auction in early 21st century with the final price over RMB 100 million Yuan (U$16 million)
The Ming and Qing Dynasties were considered the heyday of the blue and white porcelains. Today, most of the world well-known museums all set a special section with the Chinese blue and white porcelains, there a special saying, A museum without Chinese blue and white porcelain is not qualified to be a real museum.
The most popular patterns on Chinese blue and white wares may include the Dragon and the Phoenix which symbolize the emperor and empress, or something that brings prosperity; the deers for affluence, bats for happiness, lions for dignity, lotus for purity, pomegranate for fertility and so on. These graceful and elegant patterns within the traditional Chinese paintings on blue and white porcelain wares have become a gem in the treasure house of world art.
Famille Rose, Fencai
Famille rose ware, one of the four best-known products of China’s ceramic center at Jingdezhen in Jiangxi Province, is a development from the three-color pottery of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It is characterized by overglaze decoration painted in a color range that includes yellow, blue, red, purple and green. The ware is heated at a high temperature to stabilize its bright colors. During the reign of Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722) in the Qing Dynasty, famille rose porcelain reached a climax of perfection and excellent famille rose pieces in imitation of ancient porcelains appeared.
Modern famille rose wares employing enamel colors and traditional Chinese painting technique in their decoration have become distinctive Chinese national features and are highly valued as pearls of the East by foreign porcelain lovers.
Linglong ware is one of the four best-known products of Jingdezhen, China’s ceramic center in Jiangxi Province. It is characterized by delicate pierced decoration developed on the basis of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) openwork technique. The designs on the linglong pieces are cut out of the body when it is dried to the comsistency of leather. The openings are filled with glaze several times before firing. Linglong pieces in underglaze blue produced during the Qing Dynasty (1616-1911) are elegant and graceful and reflect Chinese qualities. They were among the early Chinese export porcelains to Europe and America.
A new product developed during the Chenghua reign (1465-1487) of the Ming Dynasty, doucai wares are decorated with patterns such as landscapes, flowers, birds and human figures outlined in underglaze blue, which are filled in with soft overglaze colors called “contending colors” (doucai) and heated in a muffled kiln. Chenghua doucai wares are elegant and graceful and are considered to be valuable objects of art.