Prehistoric Chinese Ceramics

Asian ceramic traditions are vast and complex, extending far back in time. Geographically the Asian continent itself is broken down into six major areas and each of these areas include many different ceramic traditions. The area of East Asia is home to some of the oldest and most famous ceramic histories. Among these are the ceramic traditions of Vietnam, Korea, Japan, and China.

Ceramics have been one of the major art forms throughout China's long and illustrious history.  Shards from fired pottery have been found in central China that date back over 15.000 years, making Chinese ceramic history one of the longest unbroken traditions on earth.


Even in prehistoric times different styles of making and decorating ceramics were developed for ceremonies and rituals. There are three recognized styles of prehistoric Chinese pottery named after the villages where they were found; Yang-shao Ware, Kansu Ware and Lung-shan Ware.

Small slip decorated bowl, Honan, Yang-shao Culture 5-4th mill. Yang-shao Ware, ca 5th-2nd Mill BC, The Yangshao culture existed extensively along the Yellow River. Yang-shao artisans created fine white, red, and black painted pottery with human facial, animal, and geometric designs. All of their pottery was hand-built using the coiling technique.


Kansu Ware, ca 3rd-2nd mill. BC., includes funerary urns that are among the finest examples of elaborately slip painted Yang-shao ware.



Lung-shan Ware, the ceramics here are expertly wheel thrown with smooth fine black finish. The Lung-Shan culture of Neolithic China, ca 3rd-2nd mill BC., is known for its burnished black pottery, some of it eggshell thin, as distinct from painted pottery. The Lung-Shan culture was on the central and lower Yellow River on the plains in eastern China. A large variety of  earthenware forms were made on the potter's wheel which appears in China here for the first time.

These ancient cultures had established traditions for making both functional vessels for daily use and vessels to be used for ceremonial purposes. The clays and surface treatment for the ceremonial vessels shows a much greater attention to detail and to the quality of the materials used. These remain some of the most beautiful pots in the world.