China’s ‘China’: Porcelain’s Contribution to World History and Culture

All Grades, Arts & Literature, Economics, History, Resource Collection
  • Chinese porcelain

  • A painting about Chinese porcelain

  • Drawing on porcelain

A simple and clear-cut way of demonstrating the significant impact that Chinese porcelain has had on global material culture over many centuries is to consider the very word ‘China’ in the English language: the word refers not only to the country but is also synonymous with the porcelain pottery ware that began to circulate in Europe almost as soon as European ships rounded the Cape of Good Hope and increasingly established direct trade relations with China and other Asian countries. Ceramic pottery is, of course, as old as human civilization and found around the globe; but the unique quality and properties of porcelain—its considerable strength, translucency, and high resistance to thermal shock—make it one of the great contributions Chinese civilization has made to world cultures.

The resources provided here on China Institute’s dedicated website for educators and students,, are designed to help frame important ways of contextualizing individual porcelain pieces as part of a larger historic story of increased economic interconnectedness and diffusion of aesthetic traditions in the formation of the modern world. These resources are developed in part to complement the Fall 2012 exhibition at the China Institute galleries, New ‘China’: Porcelain Art from Jingdezhen, 1910-2012, which features twentieth and twenty-first century ceramic works of art influenced by the estimable porcelain tradition discussed in this featured resource. Scrolling through the various sections of this featured resource collection, users will be able to explore important issues that will help them better appreciate ‘China’ (both the country/culture and porcelain pieces), including:

  • Where was a good majority of porcelain chinaware made and how widely was it traded?
  • When did trade in porcelain begin; when was it at its height; and when did it taper off?
  • What do we know about the people who made these porcelains and also who used them?
  • What is so special about Chinese porcelains as a subset of ceramics?
  • How can we better appreciate certain motifs on Chinese ceramics from a Chinese perspective?

After reading through these resources, we hope you will have a fuller understanding and appreciation of Chinese porcelain’s rich legacy that continues to inspire new ceramicists and artists into the twenty-first century, as attested to by the beautiful “new China” featured in China Institute Galleries’ Fall 2012 exhibition.

Resource Type: Resource Collections
Caterogy: All Grades, Arts & Literature, Economics, History, Resource Collection


Teach China Team

Teach China is a comprehensive professional development program offered by China Institute to provide a wealth of opportunities for K-12 educators to enhance their knowledge of China, past and present. We take an interdisciplinary approach consistent with national and state-mandated standards in order to help educators incorporate the teaching of China into all subjects and grade levels, including Mandarin language learning, the humanities, social studies, and the arts. Teach China promotes cross-cultural understanding through the use and creation of authentic materials, the presentation of balanced perspectives, and the fostering of enduring connections between educators around the world.