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abrasion: The process of grinding and sanding an object with coarse materials like quartz (sand, crushed quartz, sandstone, and quartzite) to form a desired shape. Neolithic jade artisans worked with bamboo, bone, and stone tools, using a drilling or bow action to abrade the jade with sand.

asymmetry: A type of composition in which the left and the right sides or the top and bottom are not the same.The asymmetry and open space of Chinese art can create a sense of movement and change, and can suggest emotion.

auspicious: Propitious. Bringing good fortune.Traditional Chinese art often contains auspicious images that symbolize good fortune.


calligrapher: Someone who practices the art of calligraphy.

calligraphy: The art of beautiful writing. In East Asian countries, calligraphy has been practiced as major form of aesthetic expression since the development of the Chinese written language. Calligraphy can seem like a complicated art form to enjoy if one cannot actually read Asian languages, yet the dynamic visual expression can be riveting. More than reading the words, it is experiencing the dance of lines and forms that creates the beauty of calligraphy.

caravan: Collective transport of people and goods with pack animals, such as camels, horses, and donkeys. Journeying in a caravan was a safer alternative to traveling alone on dangerous trade routes.

celadon: A grayish blue-green glaze that contains iron oxide; also refers to stoneware covered with a celadon glaze, which turns a grayish blue-green color when fired in a reduced-oxygen kiln.

cosmology: The study of the origin, structure, and evolution of the universe.


elixir: A substance believed to prolong life indefinitely or cure all illness. Sometimes called "the Elixir of Life."

enamel: A vitreous (glassy or transparent) substance made from silica, a hard mineral substance found in various natural soils.


finial: A usually foliated ornament at the top of a spire, pinnacle, or globe.

firing clay: Clay used in making objects can be classified into three distinct groups based on the temperature that is required to fire each to its appropriate hardness. Earthenware is fired at relatively low temperatures of about 1700–2100 degrees Fahrenheit. Stoneware is fired at about 2100–2350 degrees Fahrenheit. Porcelain, the hardest and finest of the three, is fired at temperatures between 2300–2500 degrees Fahrenheit.


guardian figure: In ancient Chinese tombs, clay guardian figures were created with the express purpose of protecting the remains of the deceased and keeping evil spirits away. These figures typically had fierce expressions or were made of various animal shapes designed to have a frightening effect.


kiln: A type of oven in which clay objects are fired at extremely high temperatures.Today, the most common fuel sources for kilns are electricity, natural gas, and wood. Before the twentieth century, all kilns, including those in China, used wood for fuel.


literati/literati painter: Scholars trained in the Confucian classics, poetry, and history—required subjects for the official civil service exam. Many literati spent their younger years in government service and their older years as retired gentlemen. In retirement, literati could devote their energies full-time to painting, poetry, calligraphy, collecting old books and antiques, or maintaining their garden. Literati painters aimed for free expression of ideas, feelings, and emotions rather that the accurate depiction of the world. Cultivation of the mind was more important than perfection of form in literati art. For the literati, brush and ink became essential means of self-expression.


phoenix: A mythical bird in Chinese art and folklore. The phoenix (a symbol of the Chinese empress) is often depicted with a dragon (a symbol of the Chinese emperor), and represents femininity. It is known to appear during times of peace and prosperity.

purlin: A horizontal timber that lies across rafters at right angles, parallel to the peak, to support the roofing material and increase the structural strength of the roof itself.


sancai: A Chinese term meaning tricolor; also a type of glazed earthenware invented during the seventh century that is known for its naturalistic modeling and opulent colors. The glazing, most commonly in cream, green, and amber (though blue and black were sometimes used), was applied to the clay objects in a random manner, leaving drip and run marks. The colors are created by the addition of minerals (copper oxide, iron oxide, and cobalt oxide) to lead glaze.

soldering: A method of joining metals with an application of a metal of a lower melting point. Various fusible alloys, usually tin and lead, are commonly used in soldering.

sumptuary laws: Regulations based on social, religious, or moral grounds directed against overindulgence of luxury, clothes, food, house items, and other aspects of living.

symmetry: A type of composition in which the left and right sides or the top and bottom are the same. Symmetry can connote rationality and timeless balance.


underglaze: Color applied to clay objects under the liquid glaze. When fired, the color shows through the clear glaze. On the bowl with the Three Friends of Winter motif, the potter painted the design using a cobalt underglaze.

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