Edmund de Waal made his first pot when he was five years old and dipped it in white glaze. He made his first white porcelain bowl at seventeen and is still at it. Porcelain has been a white gold, craved and traded for a thousand years. In The White Road de Waal sets out across continents, hunting down iconic pieces and visiting the places where porcelain was invented and reinvented, in the ‘white hills’ of China, England and Germany.
Porcelain, we learn, has two ingredients: petunse, a white stone that gives translucency and hardness, and kaolin, a white clay that provides plasticity and strength. Fused at great heat, they vitrify. The ingredients have to be pure, the proportions continually adjusted. In Jingdezhen in China, where it all began, more than twenty classes of workmen were employed:
Six categories of decorator, three of specialists in packing kilns, three for firing kilns, mould-makers, carpenters for crates, basketmakers, ash-men for cleaning away