The first pottery to survive in appreciable quantities belongs to the Han Dynasty; most of it has been excavated from graves. Perhaps the commonest form is the hu (壺), a baluster-shaped vase copied from bronze vessels of the same name and sometimes decorated with relief ornament in friezes taken directly from a bronze original. The hill jar (罐) is another fairly frequent form, and many models of servants, domestic animals, buildings, wellheads, dovecotes, and the like also have been discovered in graves.
Han glazed wares are chiefly of two types. Northern China saw the invention, presumably for funerary purposes only, of a low-fired lead glaze, tinted bottle-green with copper oxide, that degenerates through burial to an attractive silvery iridescence. High-fired stoneware with a thin brownish to olive glaze was still being made in Henan, but the main centre of production was already shifting to the Zhejiang region, formerly known as Yue. Yue ware kilns (越窯) of the Eastern Han, located at Deqing (德清) in northern Zhejiang, produced a hard stoneware, often imitating the shapes of bronze vessels and decorated with impressed, bronzelike designs under a thin olive glaze. Other important provincial centers for pottery production in the Han Dynasty were Changsha (in Hunan province) and Chengdu and Chongqing (in Sichuan province).
Yue yao (“Yue ware kiln”) was first made at Yuezhou (present Yuyao 余姚), Zhejiang Province, during the Han Dynasty, although all surviving specimens are later, most belonging to the Six Dynasties (220–589 A.D.). They have a stoneware body and an olive or brownish green glaze and belong to the family of celadons, a term that looms large in any discussion of early Chinese wares. It is applied to glazes ranging from the olive of Yue to the deep green of later varieties. These colors were the result of a wash of slip containing a high proportion of iron that was put over the body before glazing. The iron interacted with the glaze during firing and colored it.