Chinese Porcelain Glossary

Chinese porcelain glossary of must-know porcelain terms and explanations of some related Chinese language terms.
Also see glossary of Chinese-English
bilingual damage and condition terms.

age faking Methods to produce faux antique porcelain. See section on age faking.
Amsterdam bont see "bont"
anhua Hidden decoration – relates to hidden decorations mainly in monochrome wares. The decoration is visible when viewed against the light.
Annam The old name of Vietnam, especially the northern part of todays Vietnam.
armorial porcelain Armorial porcelain is custom made porcelain decorated with the coat-of-arms of the ordering party.
Batavia Today's Jakarta. Was headquarters for the activities of the Dutch in the Far East and South East Asia. more
Batavia ware Wares that have a largely brown face (cups, containers, etc.) or are brown on the underside and/or top side (dishes and plates). Batavia wares were a favorite of the Dutch at the time and they were produced specifically for export.
Other names: Cafe-au-lait, Capuchin ware. In Chinese  this is also called Soya sauce ware, due to its color.
biscuit firing see bisque firing
bisque see bisque firing
bisque firing Bisque firing is the initial firing at a low temperature to give the dry clay (aka paste) enough firmness for decoration, before the second firing.
Note: with some decoration types, like underglaze blue and white, Chinese porcelain did not use bisque firing before painting the final decoration.)
blanc-de-chine Pure white porcelain produced by Dehua kilns. It is without any painted decoration. Made of a ceramic body using China clay(Kaolin) and fired at a high temperature. It was/is frequently used for decorative ceramics and figurines.
bleu de Hué Bleu de Hue is underglaze blue export pocelain ordered and made for nobility in Hué (located in central Vietnam). Hué at the time was the capital of the Nguyen dynasty of Vietnam.
blue and white The first color decoration of porcelain was blue on a white glaze.
bont "bont" means multicolored in Dutch
Budai Heshang see Laughing Buddha
Canton wares Canton wares are a type of mostly blue and white porcelain made for export during the 19th century. This was shipped from Canton (Guangzhou). These wares usually depict a landscape with Chinese buildings and a bridge in the center and have a decorated rim.
capuchin porcelain see Batavia wares
capucijner see Batavia wares
celadon Celadon porcelain consists of a body of Kaolin clay and a glaze ranging from greenish or green to blue. Does not include deep blue, usually. Other green glazed wares are early non-porcelain ceramics.

chatter marks
Name for all types of clay-based wares.

Chatter marks are production traces remaining on the bottom area. Basically, these are lines radiating from the center of the bottom towards the foot rim.  more
china china or China - As the first porcelain was discovered and made in China, porcelain items from China were soon called "china" in the English speaking world. This equals the term porcelain.
china pattern "China pattern" refers to a number of decoration patterns used on Chinese-made porcelain. With export porcelain the "willow pattern", "Kraak porcelain", "rose medaillon", "rooster pattern", etc., as well as the custom made "Fitzhugh pattern", for example, all used more or less fixed patterns. There is a lot more of these, of course. Different patterns corresponding to the local taste were used for China's domestic market.
chine-de-commande This French term is used for porcelain "ordered in China", i.e., export porcelain.
Chinese Imari When the sea prohibition ended the Chinese re-entered the porcelain trade, but had to procure porcelain with a similar decoration as the Japanese Imari at first. The Imari made in China soon started to show some differences and is now called Chinese Imari.
chinoiserie When Chinese porcelain imports became the rage in Europe, European potters started imitating Chinese designs. Chinoiserie is European porcelain decorated with a Chinese-style pattern.
chip Term used for a spot of any size where a piece of the rim, foot or edge is "chipped" off. Sometimes a crack is associated with the chip, diminishing the item's value further.
clay Base material for both pottery and porcelain
crack A crack is a break going through both glaze and ceramic body.
crazing, craze lines These are not serious faults diminishing the value of antiques. Crazing develops naturally with age or due to environmental conditions. The craze lines are present only in the glaze. Some kilns in China were specialized on crazed glazes that covered the whole ceramic body. The effect is obtained by adding some mineral element(s) to the glaze.
Dehua Dehua kiln is better known for its pure white porcelain, especially for figurines and libation cups, etc. However, it made initially greenish white porcelain and also underglaze blue porcelain during the Song dynasty. In the Ming dynasty its production shifted and its main products were the white porcelain known as blanc-de-chine. Later, during the Qing dynasty blue-and-white and porcelain with color decorations was added.
doucai Doucai combines the underglaze blue-and-white with an overglaze polychrome decoration.
dragon Mythical Animal
eight immortals Figures from Chinese folklore
enamel Enamelled porcelain has usually an overglaze decoration layer that is thicker and often less smooth to the touch than other overglaze decorations.
encre-de-chine Means Indian ink (aka Chinese ink).
Decoration drawn mostly in black lines, rather like a drawing.
fencai Overglaze decoration in less bright colors.
firing fault Defect of body or glaze that develops during the firing process in the kiln.
Fitzhugh pattern Named after a director of the British East India Company whos is thought to have ordered a dinner service with this pattern first..
flea bite Originally used to describe a minute chip that is so small that it is hardly visible. Today this term is frequently used by sellers for small chips of any size to diminish its seriousness.
folk kiln see private kiln
foo dogs (lions)
Called "lions" in Chinese, these guardian lions come always in a pair and stand to the left and right of entrances. Usually, one is male and the other female.
frit, frittings Terms for minute chips.
glaze The glaze is a vitreous substance applied to the surface of ceramics. This results in a shiny layer and is usually subjected to a second firing at a higher temperature than the bisque. It has both decorative and practical purposes. This makes the ceramic body harder and prevents penetration of water into the porous clay. The glaze can be monochromous or transparent.
glaze contraction Small spot where the glaze is concave or not covering the clay body. The cause is a fatty or oily substance adhering to the clay surface. When the glaze is applied it cannot cover the clay at this spot, which then evaporizes during the firing process, leaving no glaze on the ceramic body at this spot.
glaze line A glaze line is a very thin crack inf the glaze, that does not penetrate the ceramic body. It may be very faint and glaze lines are often visible only if viewed at an angle under the right lighting conditions. Glaze lines can develop after firing, when clay and glaze cool at a different speed.
glaze skip Small area where the clay was not covered completely by the glaze before firing.
graviata A decoration finely incised in the base color glaze of a piece of porcelain.
grisaille A decoration of mainly in tones of gray, presenting an appearance with more shades than "encre-de-chine"; with few exceptions mostly used in export porcelain.
Guanyao Official kiln (guanyao) – a kiln producing ceramics solely palace use.
hairline A hairline is a very fine crack that is often difficult to detect, visually, unless the right lighting conditions are present. It can be difficult to tell if it goes through to the other side and often it is easier to detect hairlines by moving a finger nail over the surface.
high-fired Ceramics fired at a high temperature (1200°), usually porcelain
Imari The Ming sea prohibition prevented the export of the porcelain so much desired in Europe. Japan's porcelain manufacurers soon were able to fill the gap and provided the porcelain instead. The export was effected from the port of Imari in Japan, hence the name.
imperial kiln see official kiln
Interregnum period
A period in the 15th century, Ming dynasty more
Japanese Imari Porcelain made in Japan and exported from the port of Imari.
Jingdezhen Jingdezhen was once China's porcelain metropolis. During the Ming and Qing dynasties it was the seat of the imperial kiln. more
Kaolin Kaolin clay was first discovered/mined in a place called (in Mandarin) Gaoling (Kaoling).
Kendi Ritual water vessel with long spout
kiln system In a kiln system there is a main kiln producing certain types of porcelain, and a number of other smaller kilns that produce the same type.
Kraak Kraak is a type of blue-and-white Ming dynasty porcelain that the Dutch exported to Europe.
Laughing Buddha The Laughing Buddha is known as Budai Heshang to Chinese people. He is always depicted with a big belly, and sometimes with a sack.
He was a Buddhist monk of the 10th century. "Budai" means "cloth sack" and "Heshang" is "monk" in the Chinese language. It is said that he was always seen carrying a sack. Many Chinese believe he was an incarnation of the Boddhisattva Maitreya.
Low-fired Ceramics fired at a low temperature (600-800
Mille fleur, mille fiori (French/Italian) Thousand flowers, a decoration where the whole face is covered in flowers, without showing the ground. (Chinese name: 百 花不落地)
Ming sea prohibition During the years from 1550 thru 1578 the Ming court prohibited all activities on sea, effectively closing China off and stopping all foreign trade.
minyao Private kiln (or folk kiln); as opposed to an official (or imperial) kiln. Private kilns produced porcelain for the general population, while official kilns did so for the palace.
monochrome single-color
Nanking, Nankin The term "Nanking porcelain" is predominantly used in Japan for porcelain made at Jingdezhen.
nib, nibbles, nicks Terms describing very small chips
nyonya see Peranakan
official kiln Kiln producing solely for palace use. The official kiln in Jingdezhen was called (Yuyao) imperial kiln. Some early kilns made imperial wares to order for the palace, but were not exclusively producing for the palace. The official kiln in Jingdezhen was called yuyao, not guanyao. During the Kangxi reign (in 1680) Jingdezhen fired the first time ceramics for the court, becoming the location of the imperial kiln during the Qing dynasty.
overglaze (also on-glaze) Refers to a decoration painted on top of the glaze
Peranakan Peranakan is a name for the early Chinese immigrants in the Malacca straits area, and also for their unique culture. Chinese porcelain made for the Straits-Chinese has its own unique color designs.
Peidunzi Peidunzi (胚墩子) or china stone is the name for the slabs of white clay used for making porcelain. These contain the raw materials kaolin and feldspatic rock, the basic ingredients of the white clay used to make Chinese porcelain. The amount of clay used for making items was counted by the number of Peidunzi slabs required.
Petuntse see Peidunzi
polychrome multicolored
porcelain Ceramic body produced from Kaolin clay and fired at a high temperature
porcelain mark Also "china mark"; these marks have mostly a different purpose than the logo-type marks applied to European porcelain. See section on marks.
pottery Pottery is the earliest form of all ceramics. It uses non-Kaolin clays and is more porous than porcelain.
private kiln Produced pottery and porcelain for export and the general population.
Pronker porcelain Porcelain produced according to designs by the Dutch Cornelis Pronker. The  porcelain was ordered by the VOC in China (chine-de-commande).
qianjiang A style of decoration imitating the traditional Chinese water-color paintings. Mostly in less bright colors.
qilin Mythical Animal
qingbai Ceramics of a color between green and white, often with the white color being dominant. Qingbai porcelain is basically white porcelain with a glaze that has a tint of celadon. The celadon color may appear green or bluish only in recesses where more glaze accumulates.
restoration Repair and/or re-decoration of an antique
rose medallion
This is a type of export porcelain with pink roses in the decoration. Usually it has several "windows" along the circumference and a central circle, all with decorations.
sancai Sancai means ” tri-color” in the Chinese language. This type of decoration is famous for its use on the pottery of the Tang dynasty and the Liao dynasty.
saggar A container used for firing ceramics. The ceramics were enclosed to keep the temperature more constant, and the saggar kept ash, etc. away from the glaze.
sgraffito Scratched or impressed decoration in the base glaze. Usually found in color glazes with another color decoration on it. In other words, this is just a background decoration. Sgraffito on a white glaze exists, but is rare.
shipwreck porcelain Ceramics recovered from the wrecks of sunken trading ships, mostly in the Far East and South East Asia. See shipwreck ceramics
spectrum analysis Spectrum analysis or spectral analysis uses the emission ray spectre to analyze the elements contained in the clay.
spur (or firing spur)  see "zhiding"
staple repair As high-quality glues were not available in the past, old time pottery and porcelain was repaired using staples. Holes were drilled on both sides of the break to insert the staples which hold the broken edges together.
stilt see "zhiding"
Swatow wares
See Zhangzhou wares.
temple jar The temple jar first appeared during the Jiajing and Wanli reigns of the Ming dynasty as urns for monks’ ashes.
The Chinese name for Temple Jar means General Jar. Oddly, both seem to have the name from the shape of the lid. The western name probably coming from a similarity to the shape of a temple roof while the Chinese name is taken from the similarity to a warrior general's hat or helmet of old.
Thai ceramics At some time there were important kilns in present day Thailand. There were kilns which produced ceramics very similar to those made in China. It is likely that during the Ming sea prohibition many Chinese kiln workers emmigrated to South East Asia to find work as these kilns continued to produce porcelain for export during the Ming sea prohibition, which effectively prevented exports from China.
thermo-luminescence analysis Thermo-luminescence (TL) analysis is currently the most widely used scientific authentication method for ceramics. It is not very suitable for thin porcelain, however.
transfer printing Transfer printing is a British invention of the mid 18th century. It was used for printing on round or uneven surfaces, especially on porcelain and pottery. Before that all porcelain decorations had to be hand-painted. In China transfer printing did not really take off until far into the 20th century. The process was that repetitive pieces of the decoration were drawn on paper and from there transferred unto the unfired item's surface.
transitional The transitional style porcelain is a decoration style produced from the end of the Ming dynasty until the early Kangxi period. This style is neither typical for the Ming nor the Qing dynasty. It is probable the result of the upheavals before the fall of the Ming court until after the firm establishment of the Qing court as kilns may have been unable to operate normally during those times.
underglaze Refers to the decoration being painted on the ware before the glaze is applied.
V.O.C. Abbreviation for the Dutch East India Company
Vietnamese ceramics Vietnam (Annam) was a major pottery and porcelain producer and exporter in the region
wucai Wucai means ”five colors”; that explains it all. It is an early polychrome decoration with limited colors.
Yangcai Yangcai is a name used first during the Qianlong period. It indicates porcelain or enamelled wares either painted in western style or using western enamels.
Yuyao Yuyao is the designation for the imperial kiln at Jingdezhen.
zhadao decoration see roller-blade decoration (graviata)
Zhangzhou wares
Wares exported mainly in the late Ming dynasty. Incredibly, these wares were called Swatow wares although they were neither exported from nor produced in the vicinity of Swatow (now Shantou) in the northeast of Guangdong province. The kilns are actually located in the Zhangzhou area of neighbouring Fujian province, and the export was done from Yue Port, near Zhangzhou.
zhiding (aka spur, stilt) Some wares have a glazed bottom but no foot rim. Instead the whole bottom is glazed. As the glaze glues items together during the firing process, these would stick if they stand on a glazed base. To avoid this three or more small protruding stilts or spurs on a support hold the item while it is being fired. As the contact area between the support and item is minimal, the support can easily be knocked off after firing.

No guarantee is given for the accuracy of terms in this glossary

Bilingual Ceramic Damage and Condition Terms

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