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Porcelain /ˈpɔːrsəlᵻn, ˈpɔːrslᵻn/ is a ceramic material made by heating materials, generally including kaolin, in a kiln to temperatures between 1,200 and 1,400 °C (2,200 and 2,600 °F). The toughness, strength, and translucence of porcelain, relative to other types of pottery, arises mainly from vitrification and the formation of the mineral mullite within the body at these high temperatures.
Porcelain was first developed in China around 2,000 years ago, then slowly spread to other East Asian countries, and finally Europe and the rest of the world. Its manufacturing process is more demanding than that for earthenware and stoneware, the two other main types of pottery, and it has usually been regarded as the most prestigious type of pottery for its delicacy, strength, and its white colour. It combines well with both glazes and paint, and can be modelled very well, allowing a huge range of decorative treatments in tablewares, vessels and figurines. It also has many uses in technology and industry.
The European name, porcelain in English, come from the old Italian porcellana (cowrie shell) because of its resemblance to the translucent surface of the shell. Porcelain is also referred to as china or fine china in some English-speaking countries, as it was first seen in imports from China. Properties associated with porcelain include low permeability and elasticity; considerable strength, hardness, toughness, whiteness, translucency and resonance; and a high resistance to chemical attack and thermal shock.
Porcelain has been described as being "completely vitrified, hard, impermeable (even before glazing), white or artificially coloured, translucent (except when of considerable thickness), and resonant." However, the term porcelain lacks a universal definition and has "been applied in a very unsystematic fashion to substances of diverse kinds which have only certain surface-qualities in common". Traditional East Asian thinking only classifies pottery into low-fired wares (earthenware) and high-fired wares (porcelain), without the intermediate European class of stoneware, and the many local types of stoneware were mostly classed as porcelain, though often not white and translucent. Terms such as "porcellaneous" or "near-porcelain" may be used in such cases. A high proportion of modern porcelain is made of the variant bone china.