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Shang to Western Han Period


Shang Dynasty heralded the dawn of Chinese porcelain.  The earliest porcelain was green glazed ware. The vessels were essentially serving as a substitute for bronze wares and hence most were modeled in archaic bronze vessels form.

Proto-porcelains (Greenwareԭʼɣ) of Shang/Western Han Period

The earliest porcelain wares were those with green glaze.   Hence, they were termed greenwaresɣ.  So far,  all evidence (including chemical analysis) suggest that proto-porcelain, ie porcelain in it's primitive form, was first produced by potters in Zhejiang province during the Shang dynasty (about 3,000 years ago).  The earliest known example was a jar, a wine vessel "zun"  excavated from the tomb of a noble in  Zhengzhou, Henan (the Shang capital then).  It has a grayish body and thin golden-brown colour glaze on the interior and exterior of the vessel. 

Shang Zun Jar in Zhengzhou Museum
Proto porcelains in National Palace Museum

The quality of the greenware improved during the Western zhou period and consisted of mainly stem-bowls (dou) , jars, tripod, cup and etc.  Main decorative elements were stamped mat pattern or  "cloud and lightning" design.  Some are decorated with a ring of nipples below the shoulder.  The products of this period usually has thin layer of bluish- or yellowish-green glaze. 

By Spring and Autumn and  Warring States era (841-221 B.C.) large quantities and improved quality products were produced at kilns in Zhejiang (domain of ancient Yue state) ,especially around Shaoxing, Xiaoshan and Deqing.  Besides, the vessel forms of earlier period, an important type introduced was  musical instruments

Production of proto porcelain was disrupted when the state of Yue was destroyed by Chu in 323 BC.  It resumed sometime during the Qin Dynasty.  The products of Qin and Western Han era were much inferior to those of the Spring and Autumn and Early Warring States era.   The wares have have grayish or dark grayish and coarse  bodies and the glaze often dark green or yellowish-brown in colour.  Usually glaze was a applied only to areas around the mouth, shoulder and upper belly.  The base and body were usually made separately and then joined together by luting.  The product consisted of mainly jars with monster-masks handles on the shoulders and several horizontal lines either incised or raised in relief from the shoulder to the waist. 


For more on proto-porcelain, please read this article: Proto-Porcelain

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