Though now commonly made throughout the world, the earliest and most famous porcelain objects have always come from China, which is why porcelain is often known in the west as ‘fine china’ or simply ‘china’. Chinese porcelains is distinct from other clay pottery in its delicate, colorful look that is both pleasing and intriguing.
The earliest ceramics were made during the Shang Dynasty, around 16th century B.C., but was further developed during the Han Dynasty in the 200s B.C. During that era, the green Caledon and black porcelains were the leading types of ceramics. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), ceramics replaced jade, gold and other metals as the most common material for making housewares. Thus, the styles of Chinese porcelain expanded to include more exotic patterns that were greatly prized in the West. So, china was exported for the first time during this period.
The Song Dynasty (960-1279) was perhaps the most influential on Chinese ceramics, as it became not only utilitarian, but also fashionable for everyday use. The number of patterns and styles of porcelain increased to include a variety of genres and decorative patterns, including the development of the pure white porcelain we know today, as well as other ornate colors.
Chinese porcelain is primarily made by combining four elements: a clay material called kaolin, pottery stone, feldspar and the mineral quartz. All of these elements are formed together and fired, either by high fire (ci) or low fire (tao). It can be further defined in terms of northern or southern styles, depending on which types of materials are used.
Many types of Chinese porcelain exist, the most famous of which are the Blue and White Wares, which are marked by elaborate scenes or patterns that are painted in blue onto pure white porcelain. The blue paint is generally created using a powdered form of cobalt oxide mixed with water. The final product is glazed with transparent porcelain glaze and fired, giving it a smooth, shiny finish.
Jiangxi Province is now known for its porcelain making, particularly the city of Jingdezhen, which has been the self-proclaimed capital of Chinese porcelain for more than 2000 years. The city is known especially for the blue and white variety of porcelain pieces, which can range from quite affordable to extremely expensive. It is also home to a ceramics research institute and museum, as well as 15 porcelain factories.