Porcelains (and ceramics generally) offer an opportunity matched only by textiles to study changing conceptions of consumption over long periods at the level of global exchange. The word porcelain derives from a term for cowrie shells in various medieval European Romance languages, suggesting early associations with both a material surface and an exchange medium. Today, it is generally understood as a high-fired (usually above 1200°C), vitrified, and translucent white earthenware made with kaolin (gaolingtu, ideal: Al2Si2O5[OH)4]) and petuntse, or pottery stone (cishi, a pegmatite composed of feldspar [Al2O32SiO2K2O], and quartz [SiO2]), but this varies according to time and place in relation to exchange, imitative, and consumption practices. Desirable qualities include plasticity of form before firing, resulting in remarkable hardness and durability, while high-temperature glazes allow ...

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