An important invention of the people of the ancient Chinese empires was porcelain. It isn't one of their most famous inventions. Gunpowder and printing probably were, but porcelain was one of their main exports. It was prized for its beauty and durability. This article is about the history of porcelain and about where to travel to learn about porcelain and buy some art or souvenir pieces.
Chinese porcelain was highly prized in the West and in the Islamic World even after Europeans found out how to make it themselves in the 1700s. The artwork was exotic, the colors were bright and beautiful, the artistic pieces were durable and useful, and the pieces were comparatively inexpensive.
Porcelain can be made so durable that Han Dynasty porcelain pieces that were made about 2,000 years ago still have the bright colors and translucency that they must have had then. The pieces that were made even 2,000 years ago have artwork that look modern. In the West, well-made porcelain pieces were prized as heirlooms and antiques because their value increased over time.
Nowadays, you can visit the ancient centers of porcelain making and buy some souvenirs or prized collectables to take home with you. China and Hong Kong also have museums where you can see ancient antique porcelain and porcelain artwork.
It is generally believed that pre-modern European and Middle East ceramics artisans used advanced decorating techniques, but they were limited to making earthenware as they did not bake their clay to maturity in furnaces that produced a high enough temperature of about 1260 to 1300 degrees Celsius (about 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit).
Porcelain is well vitrified ceramic that is usually composed of a type of clay called kaolin and other ingredients. Earthenware, stoneware and other ceramics are not vitrified or are not as well vitrified, so they are usually cheaper to produce. Stoneware will eventually deteriorate with temperature and time. Porcelain can withstand temperature changes, and it will last for generations with care.
There are different grades of porcelain. The higher quality porcelain is fired longer or more often. The best Chinese porcelain was valued in the West for its durability, thinness, and colorful artwork.
In contrast, Japanese porcelain was generally thicker, had stilt marks or tiny bubbles on the underside of the pieces, and was often blandly colored to Western eyes.
Porcelain first appeared in the Shang Dynasty. The earliest porcelain was found in a Shang Dynasty ruins close to Zhengzhou, in central China’s Henan Province. Black porcelain came into being during the east Han Dynasty, and became the dormant type of earliest porcelains. Since the Sui and Tang dynasties Chinese porcelain divided into two types: black porcelain and white porcelain. Read more details on history of Chinese porcelain.
Eventually, the technology of porcelain production spread to other areas of East Asia. It is thought that Koreans first started to make porcelain ceramics during the time of the Song Dynasty (960-1279).
The porcelain production in Japan started later than that in China and Korea. It was not until the 17th century that Japanese made porcelain. Japanese artists developed their own style of porcelain emphasizing aesthetic qualities of a natural “organic earthy” feeling, simplicity, and austerity.
Around the year 1704, several Europeans succeeded in making porcelain after much experimentation, and they started a factory. In 1712, a Jesuit who visited Jingdezhen sent a letter that explained how to make it. This letter was widely read.
Jingdezhen, Quanzhou, and Foshan in Guangdong, and Hong Kong are places to go to see and buy porcelain.
Jingdezhen is still China’s “porcelain capital,” and you can join one of our tours. The Jingdezhen Ceramics Museum has one of the world’s best collections of ancient porcelain. Some of the Yuan, Ming, and Qing porcelains are national treasures. Modern pieces are available for sale, and you might be able to watch masters at work.
Special products of the city include the white and blue 青花瓷 Qinghua Ci /ching-hwah tsuh/ and the rose porcelain 薄胎瓷 Botai Ci /bor-teye tsuh/.
Quanzhou is known for the 德化瓷器 Dehua Ciqi /der-hwah tsuh-chee/ that became popular in the Ming era. A great place to go there is the Quanzhou Tourism Shopping Center 泉州旅游购物中心 near 涂门街附近. Let us take you on a tour of the porcelain attractions and sites, and other highlights of this ancient city.
Let us help you tour the town of Shiwan石湾 (shíwān) and the 500 year old Nanfeng Kiln.
Hong Kong isn’t a porcelain center, but there are two fine museums where you can go and see a representative selection of excellent antique pieces from the various dynastic eras. You’ll be impressed by both the artwork that is strange because they are from other times and cultures but also strangely beautiful in composition, exotic patterning, and coloring.