When referring to antique Chinese porcelain, some collectors become confused in distinguishing between porcelain and china. China is porcelain made in China or by using the Chinese process. However, many may describe an antique piece as china, but actually mean bone china, the characteristically English china.
Antique Chinese porcelain can also be described as a hard-paste porcelain of china clay (kaolin) and china stone (petuntse.) Both elements are forms of decomposed granite that are fused together by firing in a kiln. The porcelain is first fired, then dipped in a glaze, and then fired again. The high firing temperature makes the china clay and china stone bond together, gives it translucency, as well as the consistency of glass.
Manufacturing of porcelain in China began as early as 618 A.D. during the Tang dynasty, and exporting of wares as early as the 9th century. Chinese porcelain was introduced to Europe after the Portuguese explorer's discovery of China in the early 16th century.
The finest antique Chinese porcelain was produced at the Jingdezhen potteries during the Ming dynasty, but with increasing demand at the turn of the 15th century, quality standards began to decline. A resurgence in
porcelain quality was revived under the Qing emperor from 1662 to 1722.
Antique Chinese porcelain wares from this time were generally blue and white, sometimes referred to as Canton ware, but occasionally three or more colors were used.
Soon after, export trade of Chinese porcelain increased throughout Europe, and color palettes of green and pink became popular.
Some of the most desirable of all 18th century Chinese porcelain is that made during the reign of emperor Yongzheng (1723-35) which often exhibited egg-shell thin wares with extremely fine decorations of enamel.
Massive consignments of Chinese porcelain wares, including elaborate table services decorated with European subjects and engravings were shipped to western Europe from 1736-95 (Qianlong Dynasty). Demand for
porcelain from China remained high until the early 19th century when English potters began experimenting with the
porcelain processes. Potters throughout the west were influenced by this Chinese porcelain technique and many fine examples were produced by Japan, France, Germany, and England.
Antique Chinese porcelain shapes were commonly imitated in the western European countries so the collector should not conclude the shape as evidence that the piece is
Chinese. On the other hand, the Chinese also produced western desired
shapes, such as tureens, for export to Europe. So it is quite possible, for example,
that a Chinese porcelain tureen in the shape of birds may be accepted as
European by the inexperienced collector.
A notable design technique used by the Chinese is the process of reticulation, the cutting out of small holes from the ceramic body during the clay stage. The name is derived from 'reticule' which is an openwork bag resembling a net. Examples of
porcelain pieces using this method is known as 'rice-grain.' The reticulated holes are the size of a grain of rice. The glaze is allowed to fill the holes, creating small translucent windows throughout the porcelain.
As a collector, you may perhaps find a piece of high quality antique Chinese porcelain from the late 18th century, but with a hairline crack. Do not assume that the crack would devalue the piece, making it undesirable as a collectible. Since Chinese porcelain made during this time was a dense material impervious to moisture, any cracks in the porcelain are not prone to staining and will most likely go unnoticed, unlike the more porous pieces of soft-paste porcelain and bone china.