Wikijunior:How Things Work/Porcelain
Porcelain is a type of pottery (non-glass, metal or wood crafted pots), created from a ceramic material made by heating other natural occurring materials at high temperatures. This chemical process increases the resulting material toughness, strength and permits to create white surfaces, even translucence (some light can pass through) in relation to other types of pottery. Porcelain is also informally referred to as china or fine china in some English-speaking countries.
Porcelain has a long history and before mechanization (the industrial age) it was relatively rare, especially that of high quality. This made it a luxury item and still makes it something that antique collectors have in high value.
Who Invented It?
The first type of porcelain was most probably first created in what is today China, hence the informal references, but since porcelain can be created using many formulas (materials, their quantity, quality and processes used to combine them into ceramic) and distinct craftsmanship in quality of design and even decoration, all defining characteristics of porcelain, we can only look at the creation of porcelain as a continued process.
Some proto-porcelain (extremely crude ceramic pottery that is porcelain like) wares exist dating from the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC). As we seen there is no precise date to separate the findings of the proto-porcelain remains from that of invention of porcelain. Only during the Eastern Han Dynasty period (206 BC – 220 AD) does it seem that glazed ceramic started to become more common and in a quality similar to the what is in use today, even so only by the Sui Dynasty (581–618 AD) or Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD) did porcelain start to be widely produced.
After the first samples of porcelain started to reach Europe, it started a movement to replicate the process that was not understood or easily available to be studied, especially the understanding of the source materials. This led to the many attempts to obtain the formula, leading to invention of other porcelain formulas and simulations, like new types of Faience (white glazed fine clay pottery), that had inferior characteristics to porcelain. Since then porcelain has and still continues to be improved and redesigned to accommodate new uses and needs.