Ceramics began in China 6,000 years ago during the New Stone Age, whose advent was marked, among other things, by the invention of pottery. The earliest earthenware was moulded by hand; the potter’s wheel came much later. At the beginning the clay was fired at a temperature of some 500-600 c. Painted pottery began to be known during the period of Yangshao and Longshan cultures.
The large legion of terra-cotta soldiers and horses of the Qin Dynasty (221- 207 B.C.), discovered in Shaanxi Province in 1974, are eloquent proof of the high skills in kiln-firing and sculpture attained at that early age. The art of pottery reached another peak of development in the Tang Dynasty (618 907 A. D.), as evidenced by the renowned “tri-coloured glaze.”
On the basis of pottery developed porcelain, which emerged in China, homeland of the art, 3,000 years ago during the Shang Dynasty. From the remains of that period at Sanligang of Zhengzhou and Xiaotun of Anyang (both in Henan Province) and at Wucheng Village of Qingjiang County, Jiangxi Province vessels of blue-glazed ware have been unearthed. Upon examination, they proved to have been made of kaolin and fired and. vitrified at the high temperature of 1,200 C. Their surface is coated with a glaze, whose chemical composition is already very close to that of their bodies. Certain porcelains of the Song (960-1279) and Ming (1368 1644) dynasties were already celadon, though at its early stages.
Chinese ceramics became known to the world at large from the Tang Dynasty so much that the word “china” became the name of porcelain. Chinese porcelain, together with Chinese tea and silk flowed through the Silk Road and other land and sea routes to foreign countries.
Jingdezhen in southern China became a principal centre of the porcelain industry during the Song Dynasty. Dubbed the “Porcelain Metropolis,” it still boasts important remains of ancient workshops and kilns.
A significant archaeological find was made when a porcelain kiln dating back to the Eastern Han Dynasty (25- 220 A.D.) was brought to light a few years ago at Xiaoxiantan in Shangyu County, Zhejiang Province. This is the earliest porcelain-producing site ever discovered in China, and in the world as a whole.
Rapid progress has been made in the industry since the founding of New China by inheriting from, and improving upon, the past. Ceramics are now produced with renovated techniques and in ever-growing varieties in many localities, to the welcome of customers at home and abroad.