Porcelain has been one of the earliest artworks introduced to the western world through the Silk Road. Porcelain, they say, is China's 'gift' to the world. Hailed as one of the must-haves in many households, porcelain has found its way into many countries across the globe. And if one was to traverse back on the porcelain path, one would head straight into the heart of China.
Some experts believe the first true porcelain was made in the province of Zhejiang during the Eastern Han period. Chinese experts emphasize the presence of a significant proportion of porcelain-building minerals (china clay, porcelain stone or a combination of both) as an important factor in defining porcelain. Shards recovered from archaeological Eastern Han kiln sites estimated firing temperature ranged from 1260 to 1300°C. 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.
Over the following centuries innumerable new ceramic technologies and styles were developed. One of the most famous is the three-colored ware of the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD), named after the bright yellow, green, and white glazes which were applied to the earthenware body. They were made not only in such traditional forms as bowls and vases, but also in the more exotic guises of camels and Central Asian travelers, testifying to the cultural influence of the Silk Road. Another type of ware to gain the favor of the Tang court was the Qingci, known in the West as celadon. These have a subtle bluish-green glaze and are characterized by their simple and elegant shapes. They were so popular that production continued at various kiln centers throughout China well into the succeeding dynasties, and were shipped as far as Egypt, Southeast Asia, Korea, and Japan.
Blue and white porcelain was first produced under the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368 AD). Baked at an extremely high temperature, porcelain is characterized by the purity of its kaolin clay body. Potters of the subsequent Ming dynasty (1368-1644) perfected these blue and white wares so that they soon came to represent the virtuosity of the Chinese potter. Jingedezhen, in Jiangxi province, became the center of a porcelain industry that not only produced vast quantities of imperial wares, but also exported products to as far away as Turkey. While styles of decorative motif and vessel shape changed with the ascension to the throne of each new Ming emperor, the quality of Ming blue and whites are indisputably superior to that of any other time period.
During the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), porcelain was enriched with the innovation of five-colored wares. Applying a variety of under-glaze pigments to decorative schemes of flower, landscape, and figurative scenes, these wares have gained greatest renown in the West. In almost every major European museum, you will find either a five-colored ware or a monochromatic ware (in blue, red, yellow or pink) from this period.
The quality of Chinese porcelain began to decline from the end of the Qing dynasty as political instability took its inevitable toll on the arts. However, the production of porcelain is being revived as Chinese culture gains greater recognition both at home and abroad. In addition to modern interpretations, numerous kiln centers have been established to reproduce the more traditional styles.
Chinese porcelain can be traced to mainly six provinces in China: Jiangxi, Hunan, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Hebei and Shandong. While each province boasts of its unique styles, they all follow the common techniques of base forming, decoration, glazing and firing.
Jingde Zhen Porcelain
Porcelains made in JingdeZhen in Jiangxi Province are mostly used for daily life or for furnishings. The porcelain found in this province is famed as the White porcelain and many superlatives have been used to describe it. It is known be as white as jade, as bright as glass, as thin as paper and as sonorous as a chime stone. The blue and white porcelain is a trademark of this region and has been around since the Yuan Dynasty. Also renowned is the celadon rice-pattern drawings found on the porcelains from this province.
Dehua White Porcelain
Chinese porcelain can safely contribute its worldwide appreciation to the Dehua White Porcelain. Dehua falls in the Fujian province and has been home to porcelain craftsmanship since ancient China. However, what shot Dehua porcelain to fame was the opening of the Silk Route that enabled Chinese porcelain to reach far shores.
The town of Dehua has earned the reputation of producing some of the most exquisite porcelain ware in the world. Dehua porcelain enjoys a distinction for its craftsmanship and manufactures items mostly for religious and decoration purposes. However, you can also find Dehua porcelain tableware.
The most impressive kind of the Dehua porcelain is the White Porcelain originated from the Ming Dynasty. It is bright and graceful, with a white color as milky as grease. It is what the French have so aptly called the Blanc De Chine.