Ceramics
China is a world-renowned ancient country of ceramic, which has long been one of the most significant traditional handicrafts in China
Face  profile painted pottery pot of the Yangshao Culture in Neolithic Age_CraftChina

As early as the early Neolithic Age 8,000 years ago, earthenware was already made and used. During the mid-Shang Dynasty, porcelain in its rudimentary form started to appear. In terms of crafts, pottery and porcelain are both silicate products made atdifferent stage of development, porcelain being derived from pottery. They differ in raw materials, firing temperature and physical properties. Pottery was not pase out when porcelain invented, but continued to develop on its own course parallel to that of porcelain.

 

During the late Neolithic Age, painted pottery emerged as an outstanding variety of handiwork. And the then Neolithic Culture was called Painted Pottery Culture, also known as Yangshao Culture, named after Yangshao Village, Mianchi County, Henan Province where relics abound in pottery painted with colorful patterns were first found. Painted pottery is a kind of earthenware in reddish brown or pale brown with red or black decorative patterns elegant in shape and exquisite in design. Painted pottery was distributed over a vast area, including the Yangshao Culture region in the upper and middle reaches of the Yello Rver, the Dawenkou Culture region in the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River (dating back to 4,500-6,400 years ago), and the Hemudu Culture region in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, of which Yangshao Culture was the most flourishing. Painted pottery was superior in ornamentation. As people at that time used to place utensils on the ground, the ornamental patterns tended to take an upper position while taking into consideration at the same time the vertical view and the side view so as to embody an integral effect.

 

As time goes by, painted pottery fell into decline, replaced by black pottery arising from the lower reaches of the Yellow River and the eastern coastal area. The Black Pottery Culture was also called Longshan Culture, as remains of this culture were first discovered in Longshan County, Licheng City, Shandong Province. By that time, black pottery had begun to be made by wheels which, as an innovation in process, made the shape of the pottery perfectly round and neat, the thickness of the body even, and productivity in making pottery raised. In the meantime, kiln sealing technique had been grasped, and the structure of the pottery kiln improved. The flame mouth was made smaller and the combustion chamber deeper so that the temperature of the kiln chamber became higher. Black pottery wares were jet-black in color, light in weight and bright on the surface. They were easy to string or to add ear-like handle. To make up for the blemish that as their dark appearance was hard to decorate, black pottery wares were often beautifully shaped.

 

Original porcelain appeared first in the Shang Dynasty, covered with dark green glaze slightly tinged with yellowish brown. The treatment of material was rough and preparation for the clay base crude. By the late Eastern Han Dynasty, porcelain production came to maturity. Specialized kilns for baking porcelain emerged in Zhejiang Province which became a center of celadon production. In the Six Dynasties Period, celadon became prevailing over a greater expanse of area.

 

By the late period of the Northern Dynasties, the successful development of white porcelain had opened a new era in the history of Chinese ceramics. During the Sui and Tang dynasties, China saw an unprecedented booming in politics, economy, culture and commerce, which carried forward the progress of porcelain manufacturing, expanded the porcelain marked and helped to form porcelain-making pattern of “celadon-in-the-south and white-porcelain-in-the-north,” meaning that celadon was mainly manufactured in the southern part of the country, represented by the variety baked in the kiln of Yue, featuring light-and-thin shape, fine-and-close texture, and smooth-and-sleek to feel whereas white porcelain, represented by the kiln of Xing in the north, was characterized by sturdiness, compactness, snow-white in color and resonant as chime stone. Tang Tricolor, that is, the pottery artworks of the Tang Dynasty marked by its gorgeous color and rich varieties including household articles as well as funerary objects, was fabulous in the Tang Dynasty ceramics. By the end of the Tang Dynasty up to the Five Dynasties, famous kilns started to mushroom, making a new era in the history of Chinese ceramics.

 

The Song Dynasty was an age when well-known kilns came forth in large numbers, spreading all over the country to form gradually into six major schools including the Ding Kiln(in present-day Quyang, Hebei Province), Yaozhou Kiln(in Tongchuan, Shaanxi Province), Jun Kiln(in Yu Country, Hennan Province), Cizhou Kiln (in Longquan, Zhejiang Province) and Jingdezhen Kiln (in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province). The painted white porcelain baked in the above kilns each had their unique features: the Ding Porcelain meticulous in composition, Yao Celadon incisive and unconstrained, Jun Porcelain bright and gorgeous, Ci Porcelain rich in local flavor, Longquan Celadon luxuriantly verdant, Jingdezhen Porcelain crystal-clear. Altogether they opened a new sphere for the Chinese ceramics. Besides, in the Song Dynasty, porcelain dippers were widely used as teacups, among which, the black glazed ones were especially favored for a time.

 

The Chinese ceramic crafts entered a new stage of development during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasty. The mould-making became diversified, glaze was blazing with color and decorations were resplendent. The painted porcelain, then widely spread, was divided into two kinds: the overglaze porcelain and the underglaze porcelain. With overglaze porcelain the balnks are painted before coating with a transparent glaze and then fired at a temperature of 1,300 degrees centigrade. The overglaze porcelain usually has soft color that looks tasteful. Its color, under the protection of the glaze, tends to be wear-resisting and color-fast. However, as only a few coloring materials can stand high temperature, the overglaze porcelain originated in varieties. The overglaze porcelain originated in the Tang Dynasty in the Changsha Kiln. From the Song and Yuan Dynasty onwards, quite a number of new varieties appeared including the underglaze red, blue-and-white, etc. The overglaze porcelain is prepared by painting on glazed porcelain wares already fired in the kiln and then fired again in the kiln at a lower temperature. Such porcelain is rich in color, as much more coloring materials can be found that can stand the temperature required in the firing process. The blemish is that color is susceptible to friction or erosion by acid or alkaline, causing problems such like color fading and color change. The overglaze porcelain was initiated in the Ci Kiln in the Song Dynasty. By the Ming Dynasty, single-color overglaze and multi-color glaze techniques had already been fully developed. By the Qing Dynasty, more overglaze varieties were innovated, such as ancient color, enamel color and mixed color, etc.

 

In the Yuan Dynasty the blue-and-white porcelain and the underglaze red porcelain each had distinguishing features. Jingdezhen, the porcelain capotal, rose to prominence in the Yuan Dynasty, whose blue-an-white porcelain was the most typical of its products at that time. The blue-and-white porcelain is a kind of underglaze porcelain, using metal elements such as cobalt salt as coloring agent to paint blue flowers on a white background. As only one color is used and one firing needed, the process is simple and easy and is therefore extensively used in porcelain decoration. Besides, as the blue-and-white porcelain, like the blue-and-white printed cloth, has the artistic effect of being plain yet elegant, rich while unitary and changing with the color mixing and color gradation, was much favored by the broad masses of the people and soon became one of the principal varieties which takes subject matters largely from traditional wash painting, appears bright and clean, extremely charming. Other subject matters for blue-and-white decoration include historic figures, tales and legends, taken from dramas and novels popular at that time. The underglaze red porcelain gets its name from the red color under the glaze. Its color glaze effect was formed naturally at first, but became an artificially decorated variety later on, as the gorgeous color and the warm atmosphere accorded with the traditional customs of the Chinese people. The blue –an-white undergalze red is commonly called “blue-and-white plus purple,” characterized by patterns. It was one of the outstanding representatives invented by Jingdezhen in the Yuan Dynasty, well-known for its magnificent colors, and has always been regarded as rare variety of ancient Chinese porcelain, owing to the great degree of difficulty in baking.

 

In the Ming Dynasty, the porcelain craft achieve a breakthrough in that bamboo tools were replaced by potter’s wheel in shaping blanks, and dip-glazing replaced by blow-glazing, and thus enhanced greatly the quality and quantity in porcelain manufacturing. With rapid progress in economy and transportation, a large number of imperial kilns and private kilns were established, which satisfied the need of the court, the daily use of ordinary households, white porcelain prevailed, which had opened a new field for porcelain decoration to develop. Jingdezhen at that time was still the center of porcelain making in the country, whereas celadon in Longquan of Zhejiang Province, white porcelain in Dehua of Fujian Province and purple-clay pottery in Yixing of Jiangsu Province were also known home and abroad. Among them the porcelain Buddha sculpture made of Dehua white porcelain was te most characteristic; the purple-clay pottery was known from its unique color, which excels in its outer appearance. The purple-clay teapots are always popular among people having a liking for tea.

 

During the Qing Dynasty glaze coloring increased in variety, such as red glaze in the Kangxi Period (1662-1722), jasper glaze and rouge water glaze in the Yongzheng Period (1723-1735), and multicolor glaze comprising red, blue, green, yellow and purple in the Qianlong Period (1736-1795). In color painting, ancient color, mixed color and enamel color painting achieved a higher level. Ancient color was a major variety in the Kangxi reign, which succeeded the multicolor technique of the Ming Dynasty, appearing gaudy, rich with distinct shades of color. Mixed glaze started in the Kangxi reign but well-developed in the Yongzheng reign, with a soft-and-elegant hue, and neat-and-meticulous drawing. By the middle period of Qing Dynasty, overseas coloring process started to be used when Western decorative techniques spread to China. Enamel coloring, the first imported coloring material also known as foreign coloring, was used in the Kangxi reign. In the Yongzheng reign, foreign coloring agents could already be manufactured at home. When it came to Qianlong period, the manufacturing of enamel coloring porcelain came up to the peak of development. The porcelain bodies were produced in Jingdezhen, transported to Peking where they were painted and fired for the second time. Enamel coloring porcelain is characterized by being glittering and transparent, and fine-grained, giving a sense of rising when used as ornament. Apart from Jingdezhen as the center, porcelain production had almost spread to every corner of the country, with products sold not only at home, but exported to various countries in the world. It can be well said that the development of ceramics in the Ming and Qing Dynasty has had a significant influence on Chinese ceramics today.

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