Porcelain(瓷器cíqì) derives its present name from Old Italian porcellana(瓷蟹属cíxièshǔ) (cowrie shell) because of its resemblance to the translucent(透明度tòumínɡdù) surface of the shell. Porcelain can informally be referred to as "china" or "fine china" in some English-speaking countries, as China was the birthplace of porcelain making. Properties associated with porcelain include low permeability(渗透性shèntòu xìnɡ) and elasticity; considerable strength, hardness, toughness, whiteness, translucency and resonance; and a high resistance(阻力zǔlì) to chemical attack and thermal(暖气流nuǎn qìliú) shock.

Porcelain originated in China. Although proto-porcelain(试制瓷器shìzhìcíqì)wares(商品shānɡpǐn)exist dating from the Shang Dynasty(1600–1046 BCE), by the Eastern Han Dynastyperiod (196–220)glazed(釉面yòu miàn)ceramic(陶瓷táo cí)wares had developed into porcelain. Porcelain manufactured during the Tang Dynasty(618–906) was exported to theIslamic(伊斯兰yīsīlán) world, where it was highly prized. Early porcelain of this type includes the tri-colour(三色的sān sède)glazedporcelain, or sancai wares. The exact dividing line between proto-porcelain and porcelain wares is not a clear one to date. Porcelain items in the sense that we know them today could be found in the Tang Dynasty, and archaeological(考古káo ɡǔ)finds have pushed the dates back to as early as the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE).By the Sui Dynasty (581–618) and Tang Dynasty (618–907), porcelain had become widely produced.

Eventually, porcelain and the expertise required to create it began to spread into other areas of East Asia. During the Song Dynasty(960–1279), artistry and production had reached new heights. The manufacture of porcelain became highly organized and thekiln(窑yáo)sites, those excavated from this period, could fire as many as 25,000 wares. By the Ming Dynasty(1368–1644), porcelain art was being exportedto Europe. Some of the most well-known Chinese porcelain art styles arrived in Europe during this era, such as the coveted blue-and-white wares. The Ming Dynasty controlled much of the porcelain trade, which were further expanded to all over Asia, Africa and Europe through the Silk Road. Later, Portuguese merchants began direct trade over the sea route with the Ming Dynastyin 1517 and were followed by Dutch merchants in 1598.