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19th century porcelain vase with cover painted with overglaze enamels from Guangdong province.
The first pottery was made during the Palaeolithic era.
Chinese ceramics range from construction materials such as bricks and tiles, to hand-built pottery vessels fired in bonfires or kilns, to the sophisticated Chinese porcelain wares made for the imperial court and for export.
Porcelain is so identified with China that it is still called "china" in everyday English usage.
Most later Chinese ceramics, even of the finest quality, were made on an industrial scale, thus few names of individual potters were recorded.
Many of the most important kiln workshops were owned by or reserved for the Emperor, and large quantities of ceramics were exported as diplomatic gifts or for trade from an early date.
The earliest Chinese pottery was earthenware, which continued in production for utilitarian uses throughout Chinese history, but was increasingly less used for fine wares.
Stoneware, fired at higher temperatures, and naturally impervious to water, was developed very early and continued to be used for fine pottery in many areas at most periods; the tea bowls in Jian ware and Jizhou ware made during the Song dynasty are examples.Porcelain is "a collective term comprising all ceramic ware that is white and translucent, no matter what ingredients are used to make it or to what use it is put." so doing without stoneware, which in Chinese tradition is mostly grouped with porcelain.Terms such as "porcellaneous" or "near-porcelain" may be used for stonewares with porcelain-like characteristics.Chinese ceramic wares can also classified as being either northern or southern.Present-day China comprises two separate and geologically different land masses, brought together by the action of continental drift and forming a junction that lies between the Yellow and Yangtze rivers.The contrasting geology of the north and south led to differences in the raw materials available for making ceramics; in particular the north lacks petunse or "porcelain stone", needed for porcelain on the strict definition.