Chapter I The Embryo of Porcelain Primitive Porcelain

Some 10,000 years ago, Chinese people invented pottery, which has been regarded the headspring of world porcelain. Primitive celadon made its appearance 3,000 years ago in China, and 1,000 years later mature celadon occurred in the Eastern Han period (25-220); since then, the Chinese people have enjoyed the pleasure of using porcelain. Let’s now look at the origin of pottery and how it evolved into primitive porcelain.

Section I   The Origin and Development of Pottery

The invention of pottery is an important milestone in human civilization, which marked the beginning of the Neolithic Age. It was the first time ever man used things provided by nature to make something new according to his own will.

1.   The origin of pottery

Preservation and utilization of fire made a tremendous change to mankind’s material life.Because of lacking of utensils that could stand fire, man could only cook his food on bonfire or on top of fired stone. So, man badly needed some kind of a container that could with stand firing. Gradually, people found that the mixture of clay and water was Octagonal colored pottery basin, excavated from Dawenkou Culture Site that dates back to 6,000 years and more.glutinous and plastic and could be nipped into various forms, and that after drying under sunlight it became very hard. So, various containers were made of clay paste, which turned into pottery after being baked by fire. Thus, for the first time, mankind changed one material into another material through chemical means via fire. This creativity bears great historical significance. What’s more, the invention of pottery improved immensely living conditions for mankind.

2.   The Appearance and Prospering of White Pottery and Hard Pottery with Stamped Designs White pottery and hard

pottery with stamped design appeared in说明: DSC04695.JPG China as early as the Neolithic

Age, a fact that indicated the possibility of porcelain producing was

imbedded in the technique of pottery making in the Shang Dynasty.

White pottery refers to the white-ness in the paste and the exterior.

Its composite is very close to kao-lin, that shows that more than

4,000 years ago the ancestors of Chinese already knew the raw material

of pottery should be kaolin. China is the earliest country to use kaolin in

making pottery. Another noticeable variety is hard pottery with stamped

designs, like the photo above, which appeared in Xia, Shang, Western Zhou and Spring and Autumn periods. The

paste body is harder than ordinary pottery and needs higher temperature for baking, and sinters can be found on it,

it sounds like metal or stone when striking on it. Chemical analysis of its material shows that it is of higher iron

content and close to what was used in making celadon.

3.   Achievement in Pottery Technique        

点击查看[新石器时代 仰韶文化彩陶双耳罐]大图

Colored Pottery pot with two handles, excavated from Yangshao Culture Site

The landmark achievement of this period is the invention and development of kiln for producing pottery. The kiln was composed of a mouth, fire chamber, grates, fire passage and baking chamber. Particularly, the invention of grates ensured an equal distribution of heat into the baking chamber. The flow of fire raised the temperature inside the kiln and facilitated the intake of oxygen. The spinning wheel method for processing the paste appeared at this stage provided the basic principle for today’s power driven spinning method. A kind of additive used at that time made it easier for the paste to take shape and enabled the material to withstand higher temperature and at the same time avoided cracks.

4.   The difference between pottery and porcelain

Despite the fact that pottery was the headspring of porcelain, the two have substantial differences between them:

(1)        The raw material for pottery is ordinary sticky clay while that for porcelain contains not only kaolin, but also feldspar, quartzite and mullite. The content of iron is over 3% in pottery, which is usually not transparent in gray, red or brown colors while the content of iron is less than 3% in porcelain, which after high temperature of firing is in white color or a color close to whiteness, and it is transparent or semi-transparent and water proof, or in some cases water it absorbs is less than 1 %.

(2)         The temperature for firing pottery is 900 , for porcelain it is somewhere between 1200 --1300 .

(3)        No glaze is applied on pottery while for porcelain, the glaze must undergo high temperature firing together with the paste.

(4)         Because pottery absorbs more water and the material is coarse and soft, when striking at it, the sound is not crispy; for porcelain it is just the contrary.


Section II   The Appearance and Maturity of 

 Primitive Porcelain 

Xia is the first dynasty of China, together with Shang, Western and Eastern Zhou (including both the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods) dynasties have been referred to as “Xia, Shang and Zhou Age”, which lasted circa 2,000 years.

1.   The development of porcelain technique

During this age, kilns were greatly improved, chamber became bigger and chimney was used; at the same time more

kaolin was used, aluminum oxide content increased while ferric oxide content reduced by panning, so the material

became harder and water proof,and the color of the body became paler. A kind of high temperature glaze mixed by

plant ash and porcelain stone was applied on top of the exterior, and after baking under at least 1,300 , the inner

body and the glaze fused. And this is the earliest form of porcelain and the beginning of the history of Chinese

porcelain. However, there was a high ferric content in the material and the color was dark.

2.   Features of primitive celadon

Because of impurities in the material, there were cracks, the body was not of the same thickness throughout and with some spots unglazed. These early celadon were of two kinds: (1) in the form of bronze wares such as wine and food vessels and tripods; (2) daily necessasities such as jars plates, bowls and pots. The ornamental patterns varied from ripple, check, tree leaf vein to mat, net, circles and curves.

3. The earliest glaze

The earliest colored glaze—high temperature glaze came into being in the Shang and Zhou periods. It was only in

the Han Dynasty that low temperature lead glaze was invented, which was a glaze produced at circa 700 with the

help of lead compound as a fusing agent. Colorant used at that time were copper and iron that could turn out green,

brownish red and yellow brown respectively, and the glaze was clear and even.

Next >Chapter II The Birth of Porcelain in the Eastern Han Period