Monday February 13 at 8.30pm on The History Channel
The European obsession with Chinese porcelain began in the 16th century and by the 18th century it was a full-blown craze that swept up kings, princes and the emerging middle classes alike. In this documentary Lars Tharp, the Antiques Roadshow expert and Chinese ceramics specialist, sets out to explore why Chinese porcelain was so valuable then – and still is now. He goes on a journey to parts of China closed to Western eyes until relatively recently. Lars travels to the mountainside from which virtually every single Chinese export vase, plate and cup began life in the 18th century – a mountain known as Mount Gaolin, from whose name we get the word kaolin, or china clay. He sees how the china clay was fused with another substance, mica that would turn it into porcelain – a secret process concealed from envious Western eyes. For a time porcelain became more valuable than gold – it was a substance so fine, so resonant and so strong that it drove Europeans mad trying to copy it.