Many different marks can be found on Chinese porcelain. Best known are the Imperial marks that occur on pieces for the court and related institutions since the early Ming period (1368–1644). They usually consist of six characters (sometimes four) in two rows that read from right to left and from top to bottom. The first two characters indicate the dynasty (for instance Da Ming, the great Ming dynasty). The next two give the name of the ruling emperor, for instance Chenghua (1465–87), Jiajing (1522–66), or Wanli (1573–1619). The last two characters mean 'made during the period of' (Nien Hao). This tradition was continued during the Qing dynasty (1644–1912), but by then the Imperial name could be written in seal script in a square, too. Well-known Qing emperors are Kangxi (1662–1722), Yongzheng (1722–35) and Qianlong (1736–95). Imperial Ming and Qing marks also occur on non-Imperial wares and even on export porcelain, in particular during the Kangxi reign. Europeans valued marked porcelain, while in China it was regarded as a tribute to former craftsmen, or was used to make imitations resemble the original.
Other character marks (using 1 to 10 characters; over 2500 different marks are known) and seal marks may have many different meanings: a wish for good luck, a date, a quality comparison (for instance, the character yu means 'jade', an owner or factory, a recommendation, or an indication for use by a specific person or in a specific setting.
Furthermore, emblems or symbols are used as marks: a lotus flower, a heron (the 'stork' on Kraak porcelain), a hare, a plum blossom, a bat, etc. They symbolise happiness, prosperity, a long life and other good wishes. The 'Eight Buddhist' and the 'Eight Daoist' symbols have a similar meaning, as do the 'Eight Precious Objects'.
Individual potter's marks are very rare on Jingdezhen porcelain, but they occur much more frequently on Dehua (blanc de chine) and Yixing pieces. Marks are usually found on the bottom of a piece, sometimes on the edge, or in the centre.