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By the Shang Dynasty (16th century BC - 11th century BC) glazed pottery and the hard glazed pottery that came near to porcelain had appeared. And by the Wei and Jin Dynasties (AD 220 - 420) China had produced porcelain with a hard body fired at high temperatures. Both the techniques employed in manufacturing ceramics and artistic creation reached a very high level during the Tang Dynasty. The Ming and Qing Dynasties saw further technical progress in making the base, decorating, glazing and firing.
Pottery and porcelain are qualitatively different. Pottery is mainly made from the highly sticky and plastic clay; it is not translucent and is slightly porous and absorbent of water. Porcelain consists essentially of kaolin, quartz, and feldspar and is fired at high temperatures; it is semi-translucent, nonporous, nonabsorbent, hard and fine-grained.
Private kilns were found nearly everywhere in Shaanxi, but the best known of them was the one at Yaozhou (now the city of Tongchuan). One of the most famous varieties of Chinese porcelain, Yaozhou ware was first made during the Tang Dynasty and attained a very high level of achievement in the Northern Song period (AD 960 - 1127). They have a hard body and an olive-green glaze, which is highly translucent and sometimes has fine crackles. The ware is particularly noted for its emphasis on simplicity of form and delicate incised decoration, combined sometimes with comb-tooth patterns. The incised designs show a sense of balance, are nearly executed, look forceful, and has a singular freedom of line. The motifs are varied, and the designs elaborate. They usually have a regular, graceful and antique shape. Some classical history books praise Yaozhou ware "as fine as gold-filled articles and as exquisite as jade carvings". The white porcelain manufactured later by the Yaozhou kiln has a thin-walled, milky-white body covered with clear glaze, and has designs lightly incised or painted in greenish-blue slip. It is unique also in its neat, bold and free artistic style and its rich natural colors which are very attractive.
The Yaozhou ware of Chengcheng, which was popular in the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty, is covered with a black glaze. They are usually decorated with floral, bird and other small animal designs. Some porcelain wares are yellowish-gray in color, bearing a strong resemblance to the unearthed classic wares. They have a glossy and smooth glaze and are decorated with figural or floral motifs.
Ceramics produced in Xi'an, Zhuangli, Yanan, Long County and Luonan County show a great variety of colors, ranging from black, white to dark brown. They all are artifacts of innovative workmanship, and their simple and tasteful form and decoration are appealing to the common people.
Dai Gandyi & Guo Youmin, Sinminchu Publishing Co.
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