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Living Heritage: Porcelain

Updated: 2023-08-28 10:44 ( chinadaily.com.cn )
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Fine, crisp and translucent. Many years ago, a dance between clay and fire gave rise to a tangible piece of art: porcelain.

Flames in kilns around China have been burning since the Xia and Shang dynasties (c. 21st century-11th century BC). Along the way, porcelain was born.

Porcelain is ceramic made by heating raw materials, often a mix between China stone and kaolin clay, in a kiln at a temperature as high as 1,200 degree Celsius. Temperature is key to making porcelain. Going through the fire of reinvention at a high temperature bestows porcelain with greater strength, more translucence and a feast of colors.

Celadon produced in Longquan, Zhejiang province, a technique passed down for more than 1,600 years, is a typical example of craftsmen's pursuit of the perfect green glint. It takes 72 steps to produce Longquan celadon's jade-like green. Plum green and light green, or tianqing (the color of the sky after a rain), are two colors of the best quality.

Porcelain has also been a carrier for cultural exchanges. Along with China's silk and tea, porcelain was one of the first commodities to receive worldwide trade.

As it travelled around the globe through the ancient Maritime Silk Road, porcelain enjoyed great popularity among royal families and upper classes in Europe, who were enamored by these beautiful vessels they named after China, a product that could be produced only in the far East.

Porcelain began as a practical utensil and evolved into pieces of art. Even when shattered into pieces and buried deep in mud, cultural values attached to porcelain would never dissipate.

As a memory that can be felt with both hands, porcelain is touchable history.

Column: Living Heritage

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