The history of Chinese ceramic production is very long, starting about 7,000 to 8,000 years ago in the Neolithic Age by humanity’s ancestors who started the craft of making and using pottery. Among other accomplishments, porcelain is one of the most significant inventions from ancient China. The people made primitive porcelain early in the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC-1046 BC), and real porcelain was first made in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220). Porcelain manufacturing in China then gradually developed from the early Wei, Jin, and North and South dynasties to the most recent Ming and Qing dynasties. Ceramic, as well, was one of the 3 greatest specialties from the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC - 9 AD) and its products have become internationally known. The town of Jingdezhen in the Jiangxi Province is regarded as China’s "Porcelain Capital."
Pottery is the process of cooking, forming, and drying clay or a mixture of clay, feldspar, and quartz. Ceramics, as a derivative, represent the artistic features of the cooking and forming techniques, as well as the color of the glaze and the piece’s decorative features. Finally, porcelain is a ceramic created by firing a pure clay and then glazing it with various colored materials as designs.
The basic premise of making pottery is straightforward, but the craft took thousands of years to perfect and improve. Simply put, pottery is made by cooking clay. After humans learned how to start a fire and use it to cook, they first began experimenting with many different methods of cooking hunted animals and plants, and then storing the remaining food and water. After a long period of attempts, they finally also learned to make pottery by cooking clay mixed with water.
With a history stretching to the beginnings of humankind, pottery is the oldest handicraft in China. As early as the Neolithic Age, roughly styled and artless grey, red, white, colored, and black pottery existed. More developed glazed and hard glazed pottery with primitive porcelain characteristics first appeared during the Shang Dynasty. Porcelain was first made in the Eastern Han Dynasty, its manufacturing blossomed and reached its peak during the Song Dynasty (420 - 479), and the production techniques became highly advanced level during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). From a blank body to decorating and glazing to firing, techniques from the Qing Dynasty certainly exceeded those of previous periods. Today, there are many famous kilns on display that take visitors back to the origins of Chinese pottery.
In China, violet sand earthenware of Yixing in the Jiangsu Province, Nixing pottery of Qinzhou in the Guangxi Province, water pottery of Jianshui in the Yunnan Province, and Rongchang pottery of the Sichuan Province are crowned as the 4 most famous Chinese potteries.
YiXing purple clay /Yixing Violet Sand Earthenware
Yixing violet sand earthenware is the most famous pottery made using violet-colored sand, a local material with a hard and fine texture, dark colors, and used for exquisite workmanship. Different mixing techniques and cooking temperatures results in works of a variety of colors such as azure, chestnut, dark red, pear yellow, vermillion purple, crabapple red, light grey, greenish black, and more.
This most iconic of Chinese pottery boasts varied shapes and delicate combinations of lines and planes. Two major designs exist, including imitations of certain natural objects such as fruits or flowers. Major products include tea sets, flower pots, and others, with tea sets being the most famous. The earthenware is fantastic for maintaining the scent of the tea while infusing, and the color of the liquid during storage. On hot days, tea does not spoil if sitting in a violet sand tea set, and the material allows such that it holds heat but does not burn the hands. Of them all, the violet sand tea set was named the king of tea sets around the world.
Qinzhou Nixing pottery
Nixing pottery of Qinzhou in the Guangxi Province, one of the 4 famous types of pottery in China, is hailed as a most unique art. It is a specialty of Qinzhou and made from peculiar red clay. Nixing pottery has a history of over 1,000 years, and the oldest pieces found were produced around 618 AD. In recent years, this type of earthenware became popular again and has increased in popularity among collectors and consumers both domestically and abroad.
Through the unique quality of the clay and its delicate craftsmanship, Qinzhou Nixing pottery appears archaic, with a bronze or dark reddish brown color. It usually includes a flambé glaze and turns azure after being fired in high temperatures. Moreover, its surfaces become surprisingly smooth after polishing. The variety of typical Nixing pottery items is over 600, with the majority being tea sets, stationery, tableware, vases, coffee utensils, incense tripods, and antique imitations.
Nixing pottery is also popular because of its unique functions. It can withstand strong acids and bases, keeps things fresh against dampness, and is non-toxic. The pieces also maintain the taste and color of tea for days, and even in hot weather, tea stored in the pottery does not spoil. This also applies to food. Moreover, a tea scent lingers in the pot after it has been used for a long time, and the fragrant herbal scent continues to exists, even without tea, by pouring hot water into the pot.
Jianshui pottery is short for Jianshui artistic pottery, a wonderful style of Chinese artistic earthenware with a history of more than 200 years.
Producing artistic pottery takes a combination of high-quality materials and well-developed techniques, each complementary and indispensable to each other. Jianshui pottery is just the kind of high-quality pottery to result from such a perfect combination. Around Wanyao Village in the suburb of the town of Jianshui, the abundant clay contained in the surrounding area is of excellent quality and suitable for making high-grade pottery due to its fineness, glossiness, and good viscosity. Families of pottery craftsmen have been making Jianshui pottery for generations. Various types of these works are made with 5-color clay through delicate processes like body blank, painting, carving, scraping, clinkering, and polishing. They are beautifully shaped with elegant and antique vintage patterns, and their outsides are fine and glossy. The brightly colored surfaces are shiny and, when you knock on it, the sound is like knocking on bronze and stone tablets. All of these features reflect the strong ancient ethnic flavor of China.
Among so many style variations of Jianshui pottery, the ones with white patterns embedded on the dark black surface are especially precious; beautiful white flowers carved into the shiny black exterior renders a sharp but harmonious color contrast that gives the pottery a very precious and distinctive style.
Anfu Pottery in Rongchang
Anfu Pottery is made in Anfu Town, Rongchang County, southwest China's Chongqing. Together with Yixing Pottery in Jiangsu, Qinzhou Pottery in Guangxi, and Jianshui Pottery in Yunnan, they are named as four famous types of potteries in China.
According to historical records, Anfu has been famous for pottery making since the Han Dynasty. Developed unceasingly through Tang and Song Dynasties, the pottery production in Anfu reached its peak in Ming and Qing Dynasties.
Anfu pottery enjoys great fame for its "fine clay", which is known "as thin as paper, as resonant as chime stone (an ancient musical instrument in China), and as bright as mirror". In production process, craftsman should focus on the beauty of "modeling, carving, glazing, and firing". In 2010, the production technique of Anfu pottery was listed as state-level intangible cultural heritage.