Home : China Facts: Crafts


Pottery Figures of Han Dynasty in Shaanxi Provincial History MuseumBased on archaeological evidence, the first artwork Chinese people created using the natural materials is pottery. From the pottery pieces of the Paleolithic Age discovered in Yangyuan County, Hebei Province, we conclude that Chinese pottery has enjoyed a long history of over 11,700 years. It may be the oldest artwork in the history of the human species.

Pottery was made by mixing clay and water, and then kneading the damp clay into a certain model, then airing and firing it in a kiln. Originally, pottery objects were all made through a method called 'coiling clay rope', which is twisting the clay into a strip, and then coiling the strip round and round into a model of a vessel. Later, the method 'pinching' was also adapted to make pottery vessels. It is much simpler, using bare hands to knead the clay into the required model directly.

Red pottery - is red after firing, hence the name. As the earliest pottery appearing in China, it was produced through the Neolithic Age, with many shapes and patterns.

Painted pottery - was an important achievement of the Yangshao Culture. Floral, geometric or animal designs were drawn on the vessel before firing it, and the colors used were mainly reddish brown, red and black. It represented the height of pottery making at that time.

Black pottery - appeared in the Longshan Culture Period. Those made from fine clay were made with a high level of sophistication, earning a reputation 'as black as night, as thin as paper'.

Grey pottery - is the mainstream design method of pottery vessels in the Shang Dynasty (16th – 11th century BC). Grey pottery was fired under high temperature and the model is very hard. Most grey pottery vessels are plain, featuring a polished grey surface without patterns.

White pottery - was fired from porcelain clay or kaolin clay, with fine texture. It was the daily utensils of the slave owners in the Shang Dynasty. Most of the white pottery objects were decorated throughout the body with all shapes of delicate patterns.

Hard pottery - is fired under a higher temperature than the other methods, and the model of it is harder, too. On the surface, there are usually geometric patterns, so the style is commonly called 'stamped hard pottery'.

Glazed pottery - it is also known as 'lead glazed pottery'. In the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220), the flux, lead, was added into the glaze of the pottery, and the glazed surface became bright, even and brilliant. People called it 'glazed pottery'.

 Terracotta Warriors and Horses, XianRepresentatives
The terra cotta warriors and horses discovered in Museum of Qin Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses, Xian are the finest pottery works in China. They were made during the Qin Dynasty (221 BC - 206 BC) and buried underground for thousand of years, still bearing vivid expressions and standing firmly in military formations. They are considered the eighth wonder of the world.

The tricolor glazed pottery of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) is another pottery masterpiece of the Chinese people. It was so named because it was created and widely produced in the tang Dynasty and rich in color, and 'three' meant 'many' in ancient Chinese. Tricolor glazed pottery comes various in shapes, including animals, daily utensils and figures of people. The most special characteristic of it is red, white and green glaze were crisscross and respectively used on the same objects, a method first used in the Tang Dynasty.

Another representative is purple clay pottery appeared in the Northern Song Dynasty (960 - 1127) and was popularly used in the Ming and Qing (1368 - 1911) Dynasties, with purple clay teapots being the most famous. The material is purple clay particularly produced in Yixing City, Jiangsu Province. Besides purple, this kind of clay also has red, green, yellow, and black colors, so it also named 'five-color clay'. Purple clay contains many mineral elements, and is finely textured with small air holes, but still airtight. Teapots made from purple clay are delicate, with mild color. People who like drinking tea believe that tea made in the purple clay pot are much better in color, smell and taste and can keep for longer; besides, the more you use it, the more lustrous the teapot becomes.

Pottery vessels were first used in people's daily life to cook, boil, store, or hold food, so they were originally made into jars, bowls and basins. This use of pottery is still with us today. Later, they were developed into pottery nets for catching fish, pottery spinning wheel for spinning, and pottery bullets for hunting. In the Shang Dynasty, pottery was used as construction materials such as pottery water pipe and roof tile. Meanwhile, from the Warring States Period through the Han Dynasty, pottery was more widely used in constructions. Besides pottery tile, pottery bricks also appeared in the Qin Dynasty, so there is a saying 'Qin Brick and Han Tile' in Chinese history.