Antique China Categories

Western and Chinese Categorization of china antiques
Antique china categories used in the west for Chinese porcelain are different from those used by the Chinese themselves. Age-wise separating porcelain by 19th, 18th, 17th century, etc. is basically a western classification method that is not widely used by Chinese. Those who know it are usually frequenting international auctions or international ceramics forums.The other categorization that was introduced by Europeans specifically for Chinese antique china is the grouping into color families (e.g. famille rose, famille jaune, famille verte). This categorization is applied to polychrome China.
Most Chinese have no idea of these categorizations. Chinese categorization of antique china is done in either of two ways. No classification according to color exists, really. Age-wise the reign and/or dynasty name is used.As for the type of porcelain, antique china is first divided into monochrome and polychrome porcelain types.
Multicolored porcelain is then subdivided by the type of decoration, as shown in the table below. No difference is made according to color family with this type.

Polychrome (multicolored) Porcelain
Antique china categories according to decoration type, as used in China.





Blue and white

Underglaze blue decoration on white ground. This was the earliest type of color decoration.


Underglaze red

Underglaze red decoration on white ground.



Red and green decoration on white ground. One of the earliest color decorations.



"Wucai" meaning "five colors", this an early color decoration with a limited number of colors. Wucai is an on-glaze decoration in strong colors (also know as hard decoration). It was developed in Jingdezhen based on the on-glaze color decorations of the Song and Yuan dynasties. The second firing done at low temperatures of 770°-800°C.



There is underglaze decoration in blue and and an overglaze decoration of other colors



A painting style using lighter colors on the glaze



An all gilt decoration painted on the glaze. The second firing done at a low temperature of 700°-850°C.



Encre-de-Chine decoration, rare in non-export porcelain.



The colors of enamels are painted on the glaze and they show a greater thickness than those of Fencai decorations.  
Enameled decorations often use brighter colors. Enamelled porcelains were first fired toward the end of the Kangxi reign.



This decoration definitely resembles the style of traditional paintings rather than a porcelain decoration.


New Fencai

Many Qianjiang painters moved from the Qianjiang style to the New Fencai painting style after these new colors became available in the early 20th century.

* All designations in the second column, except "Blue and white", "Underglaze red" and "Enamel", give the Mandarin spelling for the Chinese terms that are given in the first column.

The above antique china categories often do not specifically mention the following types of porcelain. These are grouped together because their glaze is imitating other materials:porcelain imitating bronze wares (in shape and color) porcelain imitating wood or bamboo (in shape, or color and grain) porcelain imitating marble or stone (mainly color and grain)

Some books listing annual auction items and results for porcelain in the Chinese language are now grouping monochrome items according to their color. This does not affect the categorization of china with polychrome decoration.

More on porcelain decoration types

Qianjiang decoration

Chinese traditional art and craft motifs

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