Among all the materials used by Chinese artists and artisans, clay was the most versatile. Experimentation over the millennia led to the development of ceramic technologies, culminating in the greatest achievement in ceramic history – the innovation of blue and white porcelain.
Chinese ceramics were widely appreciated, desired and traded, not only in China but around the world, and played an important part in the Chinese economy. From the 7th century onward, the best examples from China’s kilns made their way to Japan. Chinese potters also designed wares for export to Southeast Asia and the Islamic world. Some of the finest collections of 13th and 14th century blue and white porcelain are housed in the National Museum of Iran and the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, while Chinese ceramics became all the rage in Europe by the 18th century and then in America.
Xianyang ~ Monumental clay
The First Emperor of China had an infantry of over six thousand soldiers replicated in larger than life size terracotta figures, along with a cavalry, to accompany him to the afterlife. The figures reflect the height of ceramic artistry in the 3rd century BCE. The tomb complex, located near Xi’an, is still being excavated and archeologists continue to research and restore recent finds.
Yixing ~ Purple pottery
This stoneware, with its unique dark colors and qualities, is prized for its teawares. Its unglazed surface absorbs traces of the beverage, creating a more complex flavor. Early style Yixing teapots were simple forms and could be used for travel. By the 18th century, they were fashioned into whimsical shapes, sometimes with poetic inscriptions and became collector’s items. Yixing potters, in Jiangsu Province, continue to create unique wares. The surrounding area boasts a bamboo forest and other beautiful natural landscapes ~ ideal for enjoying a spot of tea.
Jingdezhen ~ Porcelain Capital
Jingdezhen in Jiangxi Province became the Porcelain Capital of the world. Evidence of pottery production dates back two thousand years but it is most famous for fine porcelain, especially blue and white. However, Jingdezhen potters and painters created outstanding wares in a myriad of glazes for commoners, the imperial palace and for export. Today, it remains a thriving ceramic center for contemporary ceramicists and commercial production, with a comprehensive museum exhibiting the history of Chinese ceramics.
Vestiges of China’s ceramic history are found all over the country, from ancient kiln sites in northern China, to the white Dehua wares, also known as Blanc de Chine, in Fujian Province, to an extravagantly decorated rooftop of a clan house in Guangzhou.
LI, He. Chinese Ceramics: A New Comprehensive Survey
, New York: Rizzoli, 1996.
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