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Terminology of Asian Art – Frequently Used Terms and Their Meaning

This glossary lists some of the most commonly used terms that you will come across as a dealer and collector of Asian Art. Included are Chinese and Japanese terms for objects and art techniques, words taken from Buddhism and Daoism, special porcelain and ceramic terminology, as well as some English phrases related to ceramics or Asian Arts in general. We hope that this simple glossary will help collectors, students and anyone else with newly found appreciation for Chinese and Japanese art.

We regularly update this page. Last update: January 2023

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Amsterdam bont – also Amsterdams bont; Chinese export porcelain over-decorated (clobbered) in Netherlands with overglaze enamels in typical iron red, green and gold palette; often depicting European figures and architecture

An hua – from Chinese 暗花; meaning ‘hidden’ or ‘secret’ decoration on porcelain – designs incised into porcelain body or painted in white slip and glazed over

Apocryphal mark – marks on Chinese and Japanese porcelain indicating reign of certain Emperor but made at a later date and marked out of reverence and respect for the quality of ceramics from these periods; common apocryphal marks on Chinese porcelain are those of Qianlong or Kangxi; Japanese often used apocryphal Chenghua mark on their Arita pieces

Arhat – also Luohan or Lohan; in Buddhism beings that have achieved higher stages on the path to enlightenment but not yet become fully enlightened Buddhas; there are different groupings of Arhats but most common in China and Japan are sixteen or eighteen Arhats

Armorial porcelain – custom-made porcelain decorated with the coat of arms of the owner. This type of porcelain was very popular during the 18th and 19th century when Europeans and Americans used to send their designs to China to be copied onto porcelain sets. It often took several years for these orders to be completed and brought back to the West.

Ashtamangala – eight auspicious symbols in Tibetan Buddhism – conch shell, endless knot, lotus flower, victory banner (dhvaja), Dharmachakra or the Wheel of the Law, pair of golden fish, jewelled parasol and treasure vase (bumpa)


Baotou – also paotou; type of high quality pictorial Chinese rugs made in the region of Inner Mongolia; made out of wool on cotton foundation

Baragon Tumed – rare Famille Rose porcelain service made to celebrate the marriage of the Daoguang’s daughter to a Mongolian prince in 1842; unusual decoration with Buddhist emblems of the ‘Seven Regal Treasures’

Bencharong – special type of 18th and 19th century Chinese ceramics for Thai market with characteristic ‘five colour’ decoration featuring unusual motifs such as Hindu and Buddhist deities and mythological creatures surrounded by numerous flames; 

Bhavacakra – also Wheel of Life; in Tibetan Buddhism a representation of the cycle of death and rebirth in the form of a wheel held by a force deity Yama

Bianco sopra bianco – from Italian, meaning ‘white on white’ – technique of decorating porcelain with white overglaze enamels developed in China during the Yongzheng period (18th century).

Bidriware – South Indian metalware produced in the city of Bidar and consisting of blackened brass inlaid with silver

Biscuit – also bisque; fired but unglazed porcelain or pottery. Often used to describe unglazed foot rim on ceramic vessels

Bitong – Chinese cylindrical brush pot for calligraphy brushes, often made out of carved bamboo, lacquered wood, stone, porcelain and other materials

Blanc de Chine – also Dehua porcelain; undecorated type of export porcelain produced in Dehua, Fujian province since the Ming Dynasty; most commonly known are small statues of Guanyin and other human or animal figures

Bleu de Hue – term for 18th and 19th century Chinese export porcelain for Vietnamese court and Vietnamese market; often inscribed and bearing special marks


Cadogan – also puzzle pot; unusual type of 19th century teapot or hot water pot filled through the opening in its base with internal vertical tube allowing it to be turned right way up without spilling any of the liquid; their body is usually shaped like a peach

Canton enamel – Chinese technique of painted enamel on copper; introduced in China by French missionaries during the 18th century

Cavetto – ‘well’ of the porcelain dish or bowl; slanting concave area between flat border and centre of the dish

Charger – large ceramic dish or shallow bowl, with a diameter of 12 inches (30 cm) or more

Chawan – term for a tea bowl in Chinese and Japanese

Cinnabar – term used for red lacquer with incorporated powdered mercury sulphide – mineral cinnabar – as a pigment

Clair de Lune – also claire-de-lune; pale or sky blue monochrome glaze developed in China during Kangxi period. Made by combining clear feldspathic glaze with cobalt.

Clobbered porcelain – also clobber ware; Chinese 18th and early 19th century export porcelain later decorated with colourful enamels fired at low temperatures in studios across Europe but mainly in England and Netherlands. Clobbered pieces often had firing flaws and added decoration was designed to make them more saleable. See also: Chinese ‘Clobbered’ Porcelain Decorated in Europe

Cloisonné – technique of enamelling metal objects with colourful vitreous enamels originally developed in Near East and popular in both China and Japan; designs are created by placing various enamels inside small compartments (cloisons) made out of strips of wire fixed onto the surface of the object

Compagnie des Indes – French East India Company active during the 17th and 18th century, overseeing trade with Africa, India and East Indies

Cong – ancient Chinese carved jade vessel popular during Shang and Zhou dynasties; form later used for rectangular porcelain vases now commonly referred to as ‘cong vases’


Ding – covered Chinese vessel or cauldron standing on three (round form) or four (rectangular form) feet and with two handles; traditionally made out of pottery and bronze, they were used for ritual offerings as well as storage and cooking over fire

Doucai – Chinese for ‘contrasting colours’; style of decoration popular since the Ming dynasty, with the whole design outlined in underglaze blue – as opposed to wucai where only parts of the decoration are in underglaze blue – and subsequently filled in with colourful overglaze enamels (even if the outline is not visible in the finished product)

Duan stone – special type of layered purple coloured volcanic tuff used for relief carved table screens and inkstones


Egg and spinach also tiger skin or tortoise shell glaze; Chinese Sancai style decoration with splashes of white, yellow, green and aubergine coloured glazes; also see sancai

Encre de Chine – also Jesuitware – style of decoration found on Chinese porcelain done almost entirely en grisaille in black and grey tones. Often used to copy European woodblock prints on export porcelain.


Famille Jaune – variation of Famille Verte (see below) but on a yellow ground

Famille Noire –  variation of Famille Verte (see below) but on a black ground; popular during Kangxi period but there are many later 19th/20th century forgeries on the market

Famille Rose – also falangcai, fencai, yangcai; developed during the late Kangxi / early Yongzheng period by using colloidal gold during the production of overglaze enamel – technique possibly introduced by Western Jesuit missionaries; this allowed production of new pink/ruby coloured enamels as well as other soft colours characteristic of this type of overglaze decoration

Famille Verte – popular during Kangxi period; employing mostly green and iron red overglaze enamels in combination with less prevalent aubergine, yellow and blue enamels; developed from ‘wucai’ decoration that employs same enamels in combination with underglaze cobalt blue

Fenghuang – Chinese bird similar to Phoenix; it symbolises the Empress and is often paired with dragon that is a symbol for the Emperor

Flambé glaze – family of iridescent runny glazes in hues of blue, purple, red or brown and with very fine streak pattern resembling flames (French flambé – flame)

Flea bite – very small – almost microscopic – chip on a porcelain object, usually found along the rim

Foo dog – also foo lion, dog of Fo, shishi or komainu; Buddhist guardian lions, often depicted in pairs – male with a brocade ball and female with a pup

Fritting – loss of glaze (without damage to the body), usually along the rim and edges of antique porcelain and ceramic objects, caused by imperfect chemical mixing of the glaze and ceramic body


Ge ware – also Ko ware or Ge-type; celadon-type Chinese pottery made in one of the Five Great Kilns of the Song dynasty; ceramics with characteristic ‘double crackle’ in the glaze 

Gongshi also scholar’s rock; natural stone formations similar to Japanese viewing stones (suiseki), often with fantastic shapes and numerous openings (pierced rocks); appreciated by scholars and placed in the garden or displayed on scholar’s desk

Grisaille – also ‘en grisaille’ (from French gris – grey); porcelain decoration painted in simple black/grey enamels. Commonly seen on 18th century Chinese export porcelain.


Hibachi – Japanese term for traditional heat-proof containers holding burning charcoal and used mainly for heating but sometimes also for boiling water or cooking

Himotoshi – holes for the cord in Japanese netsuke toggles; ‘natural’ himotoshi are openings that are incorporated into the design of the carving (such as eyes of the skull etc.)

Hongmu – also suanzhi or black wood; dark tropical hardwood similar to zitan and huanghuali but having distinctive pungent smell; often used for Qing dynasty furniture

Huanghuali – also huali; highly priced Chinese rosewood of yellowish to reddish-brown colour and having pleasant sweet fragrance


Ikebana – also known as kadō; traditional Japanese art of flower arrangement

Inro – small Japanese case with several compartments suspended from waist sash of a kimono (as an alternative to pockets); inro hangs on a cord suspended by a netsuke and fastened by an ojime bead

Ipsa – Korean technique of silver and gold inlay


Japanesque – porcelain, ceramics and other objects done in Japanese style, especially during the late 19th century Japonisme and Aesthetic Movements

Japonisme – also Japonism or Aesthetic Movement; late 19th century term describing trend in Western art when Japanese and Oriental motifs became very popular

Jha-phor – also par-pa; traditional Tibetan tea bowl, often made out of burr wood and silver


Kakejiku – sometimes also kakemono; Japanese term for a hanging scroll

Kakiemon – Japanese style of overglaze decoration developed during the 17th century in the kilns of Arita; characteristic palette with blue-green, light blue, yellow and iron red enamels; similar to Chinese Famille Verte

Kamcheng – type of 19th century Chinese covered porcelain pots with twisted wire handles; many kamchengs were produced for export to Straits Chinese settlements in Malaysia

Kammavaca – Burmese Buddhist ordination manuscript consisting of passages from the Pali canon; usually commissioned on auspicious occasions such as ordination of a family member

Karako – 唐子; Japanese term for Chinese children depicted on porcelain and other forms of Japanese art

Kirtimukha – also ‘Face of Glory’; a protective fierce deity with large bulging eyes and fangs (similar to Taotie in China); common motif on Hindu architecture

Kiseru – traditional Japanese smoking pipe for kizami tobacco

Kiseru zutsu – also kiseru-zutsu; pipe holder or case for kiseru, usually made out of carved wood, ivory, antler or lacquer

Ko-Imari – also old imari; Japanese blue and white porcelain, often with overglaze iron red, gold, blue-green and green overglaze enamels; perfected during Genroku Era (1688-1704) and influenced by Chinese porcelain

Ko-Kutani – meaning ‘old kutani’; 17th and 18th century Japanese ceramics mainly from the area of Kutani in Kaga, Ishikawa prefecture (but also from Arita); using palette including dark green, blue, purple and yellow (Aote style) or green, blue, purple, yellow and red (Iroe style)

Ko-Sometsuke – meaning ‘old blue and white’ or ‘Tianqi porcelain’; 17th century Ming Dynasty Chinese porcelain made for Japanese market, featuring Japanese-style decoration and shapes; very often utensils and dishes intended for Japanese tea ceremony

Kobako – also kōbako; Japanese term for incense storage box; similar to kōgō (incense box for tea ceremony) but usually a bit bigger

Koro – also kōro; Japanese term for incense burner (censer)

Kraak porcelain – also Kraakporselein or Kraak ware; late Ming Dynasty blue and white export porcelain with characteristic radiating panels featuring nature motifs not usually seen on domestic wares; popular with Dutch East India Company (VOC) and imported to Netherlands in large quantities


Libation cup – traditional Chinese communal ceremonial drinking vessels

Lifan pottery – ancient Chinese Han Dynasty pottery named after the area in Sichuan province where such examples have been found

Lingzhi – fungus (glossy ganoderma), traditionally revered in Chinese culture as a source of longevity and immortality; shape of its cap was an inspiration for ruyi head

Literati – educated scholars and officials of Chinese society

Luohan – also lohan, arhat; in Buddhism beings that have achieved higher stages on the path to enlightenment but not yet become fully enlightened Buddhas; there are different groupings of Luohans but most common in China and Japan are sixteen or eighteen Luohans


Mae-kanagu – Japanese term for a small metal clasp or fitting for a pouch; often similar in shape and size to menuki 

Maki-e – Japanese technique of lacquerware decoration done with gold and silver powder fixed onto the surface of the lacquer

Mandala – in Tibetan Buddhism – a geometric devotional image symbolically representing the universe 

Mark and period – porcelain and pottery marked with the Emperor’s reign mark and made during the reign of that emperor, as opposed to examples with apocryphal or faked marks that were made during later periods.

Meiping – Chinese for ‘plum vase’; type of Chinese vase characterised by its shape with  short neck sharply spreading into a wide shoulder, followed by tall narrow body slightly tapered towards the base

Menuki – small decorative metal fittings that coves pins (mekugi) in the handle of Japanese swords

Mille fleur – also Millefiori, meaning thousand flowers; popular design on Chinese and Japanese porcelain and ceramics since the 18th century 

Minogame – Japanese mythological creature in the form of a turtle with tail made out of seaweed; it is said to live for thousands of years and is thus regarded as a symbol of longevity

Moriage – relief decoration on Japanese porcelain and pottery created by layering diluted clay (slip) onto the surface of the ceramic body

Mudra – in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism is a symbolic ritual hand gesture or gesture including the whole body


Nabeshima – Japanese porcelain made at Okawachi, decorated in soft colour palette and created by a technique preserved from generation to generation since the mid-17th century.

Netsuke – small Japanese carvings used as toggles to suspend objects – such as inro – from waist sash of a kimono (as an alternative to pockets); usually made out of wood, ivory or antlers


Ojime – small bead that serves as cord fastener holding together inro suspended from a waist sash of a kimono; it can be made out of carved wood, lacquer, ivory, stone or metal

Okimono – small Japanese carving, figure or statue (larger than netsuke) for purely decorative purposes


Paste – term used for porcelain; hard-paste (true porcelain) is fired at around 1400 °C while soft-paste (artificial porcelain) is fired at lower temperatures at around 1200 °C. It is less vitrified and therefore weaker and more likely to crack when exposed to hot liquids.

Peranakans – also Straits Chinese, Baba-Nyonya; descendants of Chinese settlers in Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore); highly collectable 19th century Chinese porcelain produced for export to these colonies is typically heavily potted and enamelled in characteristic colourful pastel palette, often featuring fenghuang birds and peonies – both important symbols in the Peranakan culture

Pith paper – also incorrectly called rice paper; a spongy tissue of the plant Tetrapanax papyrifer used as a medium for numerous Chinese export gouache paintings produced throughout the 19th century by studios based mainly in the port of Canton

PRoC – meaning People’s Republic of China (1949 – present); not to be confused with Republic Period (1912 – 1949)

Prunus blossom – flowers of cherry, plum or peach trees often symbolically depicted in Chinese and Japanese art

Puce camaïeu – technique of decorating porcelain with different shades of a single purple (puce) enamel


Qilin – also Kirin in Japanese and Korean; Chinese mythical creature with head of a horned dragon, body of a deer covered in scales, tail of an ox and with thick eyelashes

Qingbai – also yingqing (misty, shadow blue) – Song dynasty porcelain with characteristic pale bluish glaze. Objects often decorated with incised or relief-moulded motifs.


Raden – Japanese term for mother-of-pearl inlay on lacquer

Ratha – ceremonial chariot used during Hindu procession festival Ratha Yatra (chariot festival), containing numerous carvings and representations of Hindu deities

Rebus – also visual rebus or pun; hidden symbolic meaning in Chinese art based on homophones where what is presented – for example bat (蝠 fú in Chinese) – actually refers to something else that sounds the same, in this case happiness/good fortune (福 fú in Chinese)

Rose Mandarin – 19th/20th century Canton Famille Rose decorated export porcelain featuring predominantly scenes with figures rather than birds or floral decoration

Rose Medallion – 19th/20th century Canton Famille Rose decorated export porcelain featuring predominantly birds, insects and floral decoration within four or more radiating panels arranged around a small central medallion

Rouge de Fer – also iron red; French term for red or orange-red enamel used on porcelain produced by using powdered iron oxide pigment

Rubbing – stone or ink rubbing; traditional practice of creating copies of relief carvings by rubbing materials such as charcoal or ink on a piece of paper placed over the surface of the carving

Ruyi – traditional Chinese ceremonial sceptre; ‘head’ of the sceptre is based on a shape of sacred lingzhi fungus and bands of ‘ruyi head’ patterns are popular decorative motif on Chinese porcelain and ceramics


Sancai – Chinese for ‘three colours’; style of glaze/slip decoration in the palette including shades of green, brown/amber, white and their combinations; developed and popularised during the Tang dynasty; see also Egg and spinach

Sang de boeuf – also oxblood glaze; deep red glaze popular on Chinese porcelain since 18th century; also known as Lang Yao Hong  in Chinese

Sawankhalok ceramics – also Sangkhalok; ancient 14th to 16th century Thai ceramics from the Kingdom of Sukhothai

Sgraffito – decoration incised into the glaze or layers of slip covering the surface of pottery; technique popular on Cizhou ware produced during the Song and Yuan dynasty

Shimazu crest – also Shimazu mon; Shimazu family emblem in the form of a cross inside a circle, commonly found on Japanese Satsuma pottery

Shin-hanga – meaning ‘new prints’ in Japanese; early 20th century Japanese art movement of ukiyo-e woodblock prints inspired by Western art and intended for export rather than domestic market

Slip – liquified form of clay material used for the body of porcelain and other ceramic objects; it is used to create slipware by dipping ceramic body in it or by applying it in other ways (see An Hua)

Suiteki – Japanese term for water-dropper – a small vessel used for dropping water onto the surface on an inkstone when mixing ink for calligraphy

Sumi-e – Japanese term for ink wash painting

Swami – honorific title for a respected Hindu religious teacher


Tabako bon – also tabako-bon; traditional Japanese tray for smoking implements

Taotie – meaning ‘glutton’; Chinese mythological creature often represented on ancient bronze vessel in the form of symmetrical zoomorphic designs (Taotie masks)

Tetsubin – Japanese term for cast-iron kettles designed for heating over the charcoal

Thabeik – ornamental Burmese silver repousse bowl

Thangka – Tibetan Buddhist painting on textile used for meditation purposes and usually depicting a central deity surrounded by additional deities or lineage teachers 

Trigrams – also bagua or pakua; eight Taoist symbols, each consisting of three lines – either broken or unbroken – and representing fundamental principles of the universe  

Tsakli – also tsakali or tsagli; small painted cards depicting Buddhist deities and symbols, used as portable shrines or during Buddhist initiation ceremonies in Tibet and Mongolia; they are much smaller than thangka paintings

Tsuba – guard between the grip and blade of katana (and similar bladed weapons) designed to prevent hand sliding onto the blade


Usubata – traditional Japanese vase for ikebana flower arrangement with a broad flat rim and sometimes with twin handles and tripod base


Vahana – in Hinduism describes animal or mythological creature used by Hindu deities as a vehicle or a mount

Vajra – also Dorje in Tibetan; symbolic ritual weapon with indestructibility of a diamond and force of a thunderbolt that destroys enemies

Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie – also VOC; Dutch East India Company active during 17th and 18th century

Vermeil – silver-gilt; popular Chinese technique of gilding silver objects


Wu Shuang Pu – also Table of the Peerless Heroes; highly collectable porcelain pattern with figural decoration based on woodcuts from a 17th century book by Jin Gulian

Wucai – Chinese for ‘five colours’; style of decoration employing underglaze blue in combination with overglaze green, red and yellow enamels; fifth colour is the white of the porcelain itself; similar to Doucai but with only parts of the features outlined in underglaze blue; see also Famille Verte


Yixing pottery –  also Yixing ware or zisha ware; Chinese pottery – mostly teapots – made out of brown or reddish clay found near the city of Yixing 

Yuhuchun – also yuhuchunping; Chinese term for a pear-shaped vase

Yuzen-birodo – also birodo yūzen; Japanese artistic technique of dying velvet and subsequent cutting of pile producing textured effect


Zitan – dense Chinese dark purple to black coloured wood from the rosewood family (genus Pterocarpus); due to its very fine grain often used for highly detailed carvings and furniture

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