Chinese Studies Porcelain Production
Kaijun Chen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0193


Porcelain production is understood in this bibliography as a process of human labor manipulating raw materials by means of tools, which yields vessels that can be used to contain liquids or solids or for display. Selected books and articles here focus on the technological process and the labor organization in Chinese history. They investigate the raw materials such as porcelain rock, intermediate materials such as glaze and pigment, tools such as throwing wheels and kilns, and the procedures according to which they were used to produce broadly defined porcelain. The economic processes such as commission, trade, and collecting, which largely drove production, are outside the remit of this bibliography. Following modern standards, ceramics here is understood to include earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain, with porcelain being only the high-fired ceramics. Studies of ceramics and porcelain in Chinese connoisseurial literature before the 19th century, as well as collectors’ research outside China since then, have been dominated by the urge to date, authenticate, and identify regions of production based on formal traces left on vessels and auxiliary tools. These inquiries share much evidence and methodology with the study of production, although the latter focuses more on reconstructing the process of making. It often expands the pool of sampling to less famous types of wares in order to answer questions regarding the transmission of technology, use of natural resources, and labor organization. Modern replication or experimental archaeology also takes great interest in reverse engineering the technology of production. This bibliography is divided into six sections. The first section introduces three definitive works that establish the basis of the bibliography, in order to avoid overlapping references. Then five sections each reflect on a specific approach: Sporadic archaeological surveys since the early 20th century, and extensive salvage or controlled excavations of kiln sites in China proper since the 1950s have yielded much evidence of production. Scientific examination of ceramics by means of various laboratory devices has been the fastest-growing field since the 1980s. Meticulous comparison of vessels in museums and collections, as well as archaeological discoveries, has always been a rewarding art-historical approach in inferring productive techniques. The same thing could be claimed about finding new information from inexhaustible textual sources from premodern China, especially imperial archives and inventories. The last section combines historiographies treating the productive process as social organization, and scholarship paying special attention to the issue of design.

Definitive Works

Medley 1990 and Hsieh 1998 provide the most comprehensive bibliography on Chinese ceramic studies in English and in Chinese. Kerr and Wood 2004 is a comprehensive treatise on the subject with particular focus on production. Moreover, Ellen Huang’s Oxford Bibliographies article “Ceramics” provides a survey covering truly the full gamut of Chinese ceramic studies, ranging from overviews, major catalogues, notable journals, and scholarship on specific topics to collector’s perspectives. The current bibliography starts from these expert references in order to minimize repeating references.

  • Anonymous. “Analytical Index to the Transactions.” Transaction of Oriental Ceramic Society 71 (2007): 103–150.

    The compiler followed Margret Medley’s model to categorize contributions to TOOCS. Some articles under the following categories are particularly relevant to porcelain production: archaeology, general, and technology. Other categories also include relevant articles and they are easy to find, thanks to their organization.

  • Hsieh Ming-Liang. Zhongguo taocishi lunwen suoying (中國陶瓷史論文索引). Taipei: Shitou chubanshe, 1998.

    This is an extensive survey of articles on ceramic studies published between 1900 and 1994 in Chinese, Japanese, English, German, French, and Dutch. Hsieh has selected 107,37 titles and organized them according to time periods, categories of ceramics discussed, and the geographical location of archaeological excavation. It also includes sections on chemical analysis. Although porcelain production is not a theme with which articles are classified, this bibliography is doubtless a treasure house of related information. Title translates as “Index to Research Articles on Chinese Ceramic History,” and is primarily written in Chinese, yet with significant parts in Western languages and Japanese.

  • Kerr, Rose, and Nigel Wood. Science and Civilisation in China. Vol. 5, Chemistry and Chemical Technology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    If you use only one book on Chinese ceramics, this is the one. Comprising twelve separate volumes, it treats with expertise and insight all aspects of the field, ranging from technology to social background, north to south, court commission to export trade, and so on. Seventeen years after its publication, we are still seeing “new” discoveries being made—of the location of Iranian origin of cobalt blue, for example—that confirm hypotheses in this volume.

  • Medley, Margret. “Analytical Index to the Transactions.” Transaction of Oriental Ceramic Society 54 (1990): 69–88.

    Margret Medley classified the research articles not only according to contributors’ names but also to a group of thematic categories concerning glaze types, time periods, geographical regions, etc., which makes it easy for us to locate the researches specifically related to production.

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