The art of pottery dates back to China to the highest antiquity and its invention is attributed to the fabulous Shen-Nung, the “Triptolem of China”, who taught his people the culture and other arts necessary for the needs of life ; but the authentic objects which one possesses, date only from the dynasty of the Tcheou (1122-256 BC); they are purely utilitarian pottery; vases for cooking food, wine vases, sacrificial vessels, dishes, etc. , found in ancient burials and similar to those made in bronze for the same purposes.
The rigid, regular and impersonal art of the Chou disappeared almost completely in the struggles of the empire; it reappeared with the Han (206 BC – 265 AD) but with less coldness, under the influence of Confucianism and especially Taoism, whose innumerable legends provide eternal motives to artists. The objects of this period are still very primitive; the vases of very beautiful forms, have a decoration in relief with a monochrome covered dark green, brown or greenish; the use of enamel is then the great novelty, the vases are often casts or copies of bronze vases. Almost all the Han pottery we possess has, in addition to their artistic interest, a historical interest: it comes from the tombs of this period discovered by the Europeans during the construction of the railways. The Chinese, worshipers of ancestors, had always opposed the desecration of burials.
This use of funerary pottery must certainly have given great importance to the art of ceramics; but we do not know the centers of manufacture under the Han; only two names are mentioned in the Chinese books: Nan-Shan, where were the pottery of Emperor Wou-ti (140-83 BC) and those of Kiang-si, in the same place where subsequently to found the famous center of Tcheng-te-tchen. A very fine specimen of Han pottery is found in the Louvre museum in the Pelliot collection: it is a vase in the shape of a baluster, with a slightly flared neck, covered with a beautiful green enamel; it is decorated, on the shoulder, with a frieze in relief representing galloping horses (Fig. 1). The vases of this period are almost all similar; the covering is sometimes brown.