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The Art of Chinese ceramics

Porcelain is generally believed to have originated in China; although pottery fragments dating to around 9000 BCE have been unearthed in Jiangxi province, true porcelain is thought to have first emerged during the late Eastern Han Dynasty, which lasted from 100 to 200 CE.

 Porcelain, also called 'fine china', featuring its delicate texture, pleasing color, and refined sculpture, has been one of the earliest artworks introduced to the western world through the Silk Road. The earliest porcelain ware was found made of Kaolin in the Shang Dynasty (16th - 11th century BC), and possessed the common aspects of the smoothness and impervious quality of hard enamel, though pottery wares were more widely used among most of the ordinary people. Anyway it was the beginning of porcelain, which afterwards in the succeeding dynasties and due to its durability and luster, rapidly became a necessity of daily life, especially in the middle and upper classes. They were made in the form of all kinds of items, such as bowls, cups, tea sets, vases, jewel cases, incense burners, musical instruments and boxes for stationary and chess, as well as pillows for traditional doctors to use to feel one's pulse.

The development of porcelain in the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220) began to accelerate and before long the artworks were introduced westward. Celadon (like the color of jade) and black porcelain wares were the dominant types at that time. Styles of porcelain had formed and differed based on regions by then. The Yue Kiln in Zhejiang Province, which has enjoyed a good reputation for over 2,000 years up to now, produced delicate and hard celadon porcelain; while the De Kiln became the earliest kiln that baked black porcelain.

During the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), a large number of porcelain wares were in daily use having been substituted for the ones made of gold, silver, jade and other materials. With export, 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.

Stepping into the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279), 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 and common people had no right to collect it no matter how much money they possessed. 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 four.

Well developed in the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368), the blue and white porcelain (Qinghua Ci), in the main stream of porcelain, was the stylish artistic ware in the Ming and Qing Dynasties and promoted this period to be the most prolific in the field of feudal art. First it painted on the basic body with brush natural cobalt which would be turned blue after being in the forge. Set off by the white glaze and covered by the other level of clear glaze, the blue flowers and other patterns showed their comely charm and were widely welcomed among both refined and popular tastes. With the diversity of cobalt, theme, and style of painting, the blue and white porcelains differed constantly, each being unique.


As we know, the features of porcelain lie in texture of basic body, color of glaze, decorative pattern, shape and style, while porcelain at that time had sublimed to be at the most elegant. The familiar rose porcelain was another highlight that appeared during the reign of Emperor Kangxi (1653 - 1722). The finished article appears more stereoscopic, colorful, gentle and clean. Nearly all the refined colored pigments were utilized like ancient purple, magenta, ochre, emerald, and so on.

Through the development of 4,000 years, now it is still a brilliant art that attracts many people's interest. Collect your favorite porcelain article and place it in your room to enjoy the pleasure of it. The Porcelain Capital, Jingdezhen in Jiangxi Province which has been praised for thousands of years, will be certain to satisfy your esthetic appetite.

Ceramic Secrets
Did you know that Chinese ceramics were once considered high-tech? For many years, China was the only civilization that knew how to make porcelain. Through years of research and experimentation, the Chinese developed secret techniques that no one else knew about. People from all over the world wanted these wonderful treasures, and the Chinese were very eager to sell them.

How Are Ceramics Made?

Ceramics are generally made from three basic elements:
Clay + Glaze + Heat

They are formed into shapes by hand, using molds, or by turning on a potter's wheel.

Clay is basically rock that has been ground down over thousands of years. It is different from sand or ordinary mud because it holds its shape and keeps shape when it is heated (or fired) in a kiln. Kilns are ovens that are specially made for firing ceramics.

Clay, although common, is not found everywhere, and ceramics industries often grow where this key raw material is available. Because heat is also needed there is another crucial raw material: fuel for firing the kiln.

After cleaning and preparing the clay, potters mix it with water to make it easier to handle. Clay vessels (pots, dishes, vases, and other containers) and sculptures are formed in several ways:

building by hand (pinching, coiling, and slab building)
shaping on a potter's wheel
forming in molds
Chinese tomb sculptures were formed in molds and then painted or glazed. The other ceramics were formed on potter's wheels. A lump of clay is thrown on a turning wheel and shaped with the hands as the wheel turns.

The clay used to make fine porcelain china is called kaolin, from the Gaoling Mountains of southeastern China, where it was first mined. Chinese potters mixed the kaolin clay with a powder ground from a stone called baidunzi, a rock that contains feldspar, a glassy mineral. In the very hot kilns, the stone melts and makes the clay hard and shiny like glass.

Glaze acts as the skin of the pot, making it waterproof and providing decoration. It often feels like glass when you touch it.

Glaze is made up of four main ingredients:

clay, often the same clay as the object,
glassy minerals, often silica found in sand, that melt to make the body hard,
a flux, a mineral such as feldspar or calcium that allows the glaze to melt at a lower temperature, and
minerals to add color such as cobalt (blue) or manganese (purple).
The potter mixes the glaze ingredients with water and then applies them to the vessel or sculpture, sometimes with a brush or by spraying, pouring, or dipping the object into the glaze.

There are many different glaze recipes, and Chinese potters sometimes kept their formulas very secret.

To become usable ceramics, clay objects have to be fired in kilns, in the same way that bread dough is baked in an oven to become bread.

The water must be removed from the wet clay and the clay particles must melt together for the pot to harden and keep its shape. Over the centuries, pots have been fired in kilns varying from simple bonfires to long kilns that climb up the side of hills.

Kilns usually have three main sections:

a firebox (containing the fuel),
a firing chamber (containing the pots ), and
a chimney.
Heat moves from the firebox through the firing chamber and up through the chimney. Traditional Chinese potters used wood and coal as fuel, but today electric kilns are increasingly popular.

Different clays require different firing temperatures and firing times-a clay vessel that has not dried completely before firing can sometimes explode! The colors of the glazes can vary according to the amount of oxygen in the kiln during firing. So, the potter watches the kiln very carefully during firing. After firing, the pots are left to cool before they are taken out.

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