Institute of Archaeology


Shan Huang

The Origin of White Porcelain in North China


Email: shan.huang.15@ucl.ac.uk
Section: Archaeological Sciences



The Origin of White Porcelain in North China

The present project is concerned with the early development of white porcelain from the perspective of archaeological science, and the social factors that drove this innovation.

White porcelain plays a unique role in the history of ceramic production for several major reasons. At least one of the motives of producing white porcelain was to imitate or evoke the value of luxury materials such as silver or jade. Furthermore, the introduction of a white base supplied the fundamental ground needed for colour decoration in later well-known ceramics such as Sancai and Blue-and-White.

Technically white porcelain is much more difficult to produce than other pottery or stoneware in three aspects. First of all, the pure white kaolin raw material needed for a white body and white/translucent glaze, are naturally less accessible than ordinary clay. Secondly, a relatively high firing temperature (typically above 1200 °C) and skilful control of the temperature and atmosphere are required to generate the hard body and firm glaze, which had rarely been achieved by the 6th century AD. At last, the recipes of the body and glaze had to be adjusted to improve the fabric and structure of the material. The pathway to the successful innovation is therefore likely to have been complex.

The social motivation which drove the emergence of the white porcelain is another major concern. It is still unknown when and where the "standard" white porcelain appeared first, although it may be significant that the earliest kiln currently believed to have been producing white porcelain-like ceramic was at Caocun kiln in Yecheng (The city of Ye,). This is consistent with the view that whitewares were first fashionable within the elite class of medieval China.


China Scholarship Council(CSC)


  • BA, Archaeology and Museology, Peking University, 2006

  • MA, Archaeology and Museology, Peking University, 2009

    Developments in Ceramic Technology in North China in the Sixth Century AD, Archaeology International, 2017, No.20: pp. 66-70, DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/ai-355

    The Art of Subtraction: New Perspective into the Origin of White Porcelain in North China, presented at Early High Technology Ceramic Meeting, 27th April 2017, Institute of Archaeology, UCL.

    Yun-Kang, vol.Ⅱ, Description of the Plates, Science Press, March 2014(Translation)

    An Analysis of the Craftsmen from outside Jingdezhen of the Yuan Era from the View of Ceramic Archaeology Focusing on the Yuan Blue and White and Turquoise Glazed Wares, Palace Museum Journal, No.6, 2013, All of Number 170, pp.052-057. (In Chinese)

    Study on a Green Glazed Jar Excavated from an Eastern Han Tomb in Hepu, Guangxi, Archaeology (in China), vol8, 2013, pp.87-96. (In Chinese & English)

    Way and Character of Blue and White's Export in Yuan Dynasty in View of Maritime History, Road of Silk and Porcelain, Vol.Ⅲ, 2013, pp.344-362. (In Chinese)

    Communication between Han Dynasty and Parthia by the Sea, a Study based on a Ceramic Jar Unearthed from an Eastern Han Tomb in Hepu, Guangxi, Maritime Heritage and Archaeology, Science Press, 2012.

    An Research on the Routine of the Spread of Blue and White in Yuan Dynasty, Archaeology, Religion, and History of Silk Road, edited by Archaeological Institute of Ningxia, Wenwu Press, August 2011, PP.204-213. (In Chinese)

    Guanyinge Kiln of Ming Dynasty in Jingdezhen City, Jiangxi Province, Cultural Relics,vol.12 2009. (In Chinese)

    The Ceramic Road (陶磁の道,) and Study on Exported Blue and White in Yuan Dynasty. Collection of Research Results Supported by Calbee Research Fund of Japan in 2007-2008, Edited by the Center of Japan Research in Peking University, Jun 2008,pp104-120. (In Chinese)

    Discoveries in Siraf: A Medieval Persian Port, published by Digital Silk Road Project in Japan, Feb 2007,

    http://dsr.nii.ac.jp/narratives/discovery/10/index.html.zh. (In Chinese &Japanese)

    On Three Kinds of Imported Glass Wares Unearthed from Guangdong and Guangxi Provinces, Young Archaeologists, Vol.19, 2006. (In Chinese)