Your Guide to Buying Antique Chinese Painted Porcelain

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Your Guide to Buying Antique Chinese Painted Porcelain

Chinese porcelain is famous throughout the world. Its vibrant colour and refined texture are part of a long history of Chinese ceramics dating back 3,500 years. Through the centuries, various hand-painting styles and techniques were used on the porcelain, along with different firing and sculpting methods. Commonly painted items included bowls, jewellery cases, vases, incense burners and tea sets. This buying guide will provide information about the history, types and styles of antique Chinese painted porcelain. It will also provide tips on how to choose the right piece, followed by instructions for care and maintenance after purchase.

History of Antique Chinese Painted Porcelain

Porcelain first appeared in China during the Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BC) and quickly became popular with the aristocracy. A combination of its shine and its durability made porcelain unrivalled among other ceramic wares. The Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) saw porcelain production spread westward across China, with individual regions and kilns developing their own style. The Yue Kiln in Zhejiang Province was celebrated for its celadon porcelain – hard yet delicate works in the colour of jade.   

Porcelain reached new heights of artistry during the Song dynasty (960 – 1279 AD). The Ding Kiln became famous for its hand-painted floral patterns. Blue and white porcelain emerged during the Yuan dynasty (1271 - 1368). This new variety used cobalt, which had recently begun arriving from Persia. These wares were hand-painted with a shade of blue not yet produced in China. It also had added appeal because cobalt was a precious commodity at the time, about double the value of gold.

Qianjiang (light amber) painting on porcelain flourished in the Yuan dynasty up to the early Republic period around 1910. The enamels were applied directly onto the white glazed porcelain surface to achieve a watercolour look. The decorations are delicate and pale in colour. Originally the most common motifs were landscapes with mountains and waters. Eventually, more artists adopted the idea of copying traditional paintings. The motifs became more varied but the name was retained to encompass all styles.

Discover Antique Chinese Painted Porcelain

Antique Chinese painted porcelain provides a glamorous accent to any room. Painted vases are suitable for larger rooms. A large vase can draw attention and it can work as a show piece for a room. Looking for and buying smaller items like tea sets or incense burners can make for an interesting hobby, as there are various parts and accessories to collect. The value of antique painted porcelain from China cannot be over-stated. It has always been a collector’s item and its value is likely to always be high, compared to other antiques. 

Materials Used to Make Antique Chinese Painted Porcelain

Hand-painting has long been a feature of Chinese porcelain throughout the many changes in glazing and firing techniques. Below is a list of the essential components of Chinese porcelain. 




Consists mostly of kaolinite, though composition can differ depending on where it is extracted.


A mineral containing aluminium silicate and flint. These reduce the temperature when liquid glass forms during firing, and bind the grains of the body together.


A compound of oxygen and silicon, it is the most common filler used to form and fire the body, as well as to improve the properties of the finished product.


Hand-painted as abstract designs, landscapes or intricate scenes with people.


A compound of aluminium and oxygen sometimes used in porcelain.


A type of silica which imbues a creamy-white hue to the porcelain.


A mineral added to glazes which turn red or green depending on the firing process.


A chemical element added to the glaze which makes a cobalt-blue colour.


Added to the glaze to create yellow, red, green or black depending on the firing.


Added to the glaze to create purples and browns.


Added to the glaze to create purple.


Added to the glaze to create white.

Types of Antique Chinese Painted Porcelain

There have been many different types of Chinese porcelainmade over the centuries. The option to apply hand-painted designs, symbols, motifs or scenes was used on virtually all styles at one time or another.




Sancai burial ware

Often painted with animals like camels and horses.

· Often well-preserved as a result of being buried.

Jian tea ware

Uses iron-rich clay and wood-ash flux to create a pattern called hare’s fur.

· No two bowls have identical patterns.

Ding ware

White, almost transparent, glaze that dripped to appear like tears.

· Best quality porcelain of northern China of its time.

Ru ware

Feature reddish-brown crackles known as crazing.

· Still considered one of the best uses of crazing.

Jun ware

Extremely thick purple and turquoise glaze.

· Thick and robust in shape and design.

Guan ware

Very thin walls and very thick glaze.

· Guan refers to ‘official’ which means pieces were produced in an imperial kiln.

Ge ware

Two primary types: the first is yellow with two sets of crackles; the second is greyish with one set of crackles.

· Similar to Guan ware, which is also highly prized.

Qingbai wares

Greenish-blue in colour with some pieces having incised decorations.

· Has the texture of very fine sugar.

Blue and white wares

Blue decorations are painted on with cobalt oxide.

· Very beautiful and highly-prized.

Blanc de Chine

Fuses the glaze and body into ivory-white and milk-white colours.

· Exported in large quantities to Europe.

Export porcelain

Made for export to Europe and North America from the 1500s to the 1900s

· Was highly-regarded and sought-after.

Factors to Consider When Buying Antique Chinese Painted Porcelain

Below are a few factors to consider before purchasing antique Chinese painted porcelain.

  • Porcelain or China – Although frequently referred to as china, true porcelain is fired at a higher temperature, is much harder, and cannot be cut with a file like China. Porcelain is translucent, china is opaque.
  • Marks – Marks on antique Chinese porcelain will reflect the dynasty during which it was made. Typically, these marks state the name of the emperor who was ruling then.
  • Age signs – Buyers should be wary of pristine pieces without any signs of aging, as these could turn out to be faked antique. However, too much aging could affect the value of the piece. Factors to consider include rust spots, cracking, discolouration, glaze deterioration and the presence or absence of certain colours.

Typical Features of Antique Chinese Painted Porcelain

Chinese emperors selected symbolic colours in accordance with Taoistic principles and the five important elements that they believed make up life. These are reflected in the various hand-painted designs and scenes of antique Chinese porcelain.

1. Water (black)

Regarded as the colour of heaven and the king of all colours, black was worshipped longer than any other colour in ancient China. Together with white, it represents the unity of Yin and Yang.

2. Fire (red)

Red symbolises joy and good fortune. Summer is always represented by reddish brightness, and guardians in the form of sparrows are also red.

3. Wood (greenish-blue)

This colour is symbolic of the vigour and youth of spring. The primary guardian was a green-blue dragon.

4. Metal (white)

White represents brightness and the nature of purity and fullness. Autumn was also represented by white, with a white tiger acting as guardian.

5.  Earth (yellow)

Yellow represents the colour of the earth and is said to be the generator of Yin and Yang.  It is also the symbolic colour of royalty.

How to Care for Antique Chinese Painted Porcelain

Avoid direct sunlight because it will cause the hand-painted colours to fade. Always handle porcelain items by the body rather than the handles which could crack or break off. Use a stable cabinet for extremely valuable pieces, with a felt pad cut to fit the base of the item. Avoid tape for holding on lids or loose appendages as this can damage the paint. Blu-Tack, or something similar, is safer.

Use an artist’s paintbrush to remove dirt and dust. Unrestored, glazed ceramics can be washed in warm water with a mild soap and soft brush. Always put a towel or sponge at the bottom of the basin. Rinse well and allow to dry on a clean towel.

Accessories and Add-ons for Antique Chinese Painted Porcelain

Antique Chinese painted porcelain is valuable and deserves proper care and maintenance. Consider purchasing a glass case for display. A dedicated alarm system for the display case is also an option.

  • Display case
  • Alarm system
  • Display light
  • Felt pad
  • Soft brush

Finding Antique Chinese Painted Porcelain on eBay

Once you determine the type of antique Chinese painted porcelain you want to purchase, visit the Antiques portal on eBay, click on ‘Asian / Oriental Antiques’, then ‘Chinese’ and start searching item listings. The Categories list on the left-hand side of the eBay page helps to narrow the search.

Searching for Antique Chinese Painted Porcelainon eBay

Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for antique Chinese painted porcelain. For example, to find an antique Chinese painted porcelain vase, type ‘Antique Chinese Painted Porcelain Vase’ into the search box, and then click the Advanced button to customise the results. Also visit eBay’s Search Tipspage for more advice on searching for antique Chinese painted porcelain with keywords. If you can’t find the exact antique Chinese painted porcelain you want, try shopping eBay Stores.


Chinese painted porcelain antiques were produced over a period of a few thousand years. Collecting items from a particular dynasty is an option, as is collecting certain types of painted porcelain, like vases for example. With this guide, you can find some information about antique Chinese painted porcelain. Once you have collected this information, you can buy antique Chinese painted porcelain safely and securely on eBay.

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