The term porcelain comes from the Italian word porcellana, a type of cowry shell with the same color and texture of the wares produced in China, which is how porcelain came to be known by that name. The history of porcelain begins in the Chinese province of Jiangxi. Within the Gaoling Mountains the Chinese discovered kaolin, fine white clay made from decomposed granite.
The people of the T'ang dynasty were the first ones to create porcelain ware. In the 13th century the Chinese of the Yuan dynasty transformed kaolin into the type of material that most closely resembles the type of porcelain that people of today are familiar with.
The Chinese fired and molded the kaolin into a variety of exquisite items, including plates, bowls, and vases. These items became so sought after that traders from the Middle East and Europe flocked to China to bring these objects back to their own countries, which how the name china became associated with these types of porcelain wares.
Porcelain produced in China was also relatively easy to clean and not easily cut, although it could shatter if dropped. For centuries artisans, particularly those in Europe and the Middle East, attempted to recreate these wares, to no avail. The colors, translucency and hardness all differed between their products and their Chinese counterparts.
This changed in the 1800s, when the Europeans mastered the art of making porcelain similar to the type found in China. Bone china was first produced in Europe in the 1800s by Josiah Spode. Using bone ash (calcified cattle bone), china stone (feldspar rich granite) and kaolin, he was able to create a type of china similar in color and make up to the porcelain found in China. Today bone china is often found in stores in the United States and Europe and is the type of material most likely found in fine china tableware.