For more than a thousand years porcelain was one of the most admired products in the world. It played a central role in many cross-cultural exchanges, serving as an artistic symbol across great distances. Historians now believe that the cultural impact of Chinese porcelain has been greatly underestimated. Although there's a wealth of literature written about Chinese porcelain, the experts in the field, such as historians and archaeologists, rarely consult the publications.
The dawn of Chinese porcelain has been announced by Shang Dynasty. The porcelain of that day served as a substitute for bronze and other metals, and was greenish in color. Later on, during the Eastern Han period, porcelain technique had greatly improved and the wares given a distinct name in order to differentiate them from a porous, softer earthenware. The new name was "tz'u", which, later, during the T'ang dynasty, came to mean true porcelain.
Europeans first discovered true porcelain in Chinese blue and white wares of early to mid 1500s. It was love at first sight. Western merchants imported millions of porcelain items, prompting the English critic and writer Samuel Johnson to call it "the contagion of China fancy". Others called it a "porcelain disease", an obsessive desire to posses something that seemed exotic. For over a thousand years Chinese porcelain was greatly admired throughout the world, not just in Europe.
It influenced every ceramic tradition in the world, including Asia, Africa, Middle-East, and South America. Egyptian and Turkish potters combined Chinese porcelain decoration with Ottoman designs; Venetian potters adapted flower patterns from Turkish pottery, while Chinese craftsmen followed the design of Venetian glass makers in porcelain. Later, Mexican potters created their own blue and white flow wares because they wanted to imitate the Chinese. With their stress on simplicity and economy, Chinese porcelain craftsmen are closely related to their poets, writers, and visual artists. They seek to express harmony with the natural surroundings. Chinese artists often have looked for inspiration by withdrawing to remote areas, and these landscapes have become conventional themes of Chinese art.
The art of Chinese porcelain has played a crucial role in bringing the artistry of porcelain to different parts of the world, as well as to different and often seemingly unrelated disciplines (architecture, sculpture, silverwork, etc.) It set forth a novel and creative multi-cultural synthesis that has helped the way the world looks at a work of art.