The Chinese word Hu means jar. Originally this vessel shape was an ancient bronze shape. Usually this name reefers to bronze or clay vessels imitating bronze.
During the Han dynasty, food became both abundant and varied. Even the common people enjoyed great improvements in their standard of living. Han tombs nearly always included storage jars (hu) full of cereals and wine for the afterlife. Unglazed Han dynasty Hu (jars) are often large, lidded and cold painted in red, white and purple pigments with spiral patterns. Glazed Han Hu Jars are found in green or brown lead glazes, often over moulded decorations imitating cast bronze.
The shape is characterized by a pear shaped body continuing upwards in a sinous curve toward a generous opening often covered with a lid.
The Hu jar seems to have originated as a bronze vessel during the Shang Period (1600-1045 BC). During the Shang period the decoration was dominated by taotie mask motif and leiwen thunder pattern. By the end of the hang dynasty square shapes began to appear.
During the Western Zhou Period (1045-771 BC) larger sizes become more common. The hu still mainly served as a wine vessel for ritual uses. The taotie design was gradually replaced by other types of animal and geometric decorations. Any Hu found from these times seems to have been hidden in preparation ahead of wars and invasions. Therefore, the vessels' burial context provides less clues about their functions and meanings.
The Eastern Zhou Period (770-256 BC) is subdivided into two periods. First the Spring and Autumn period(770-476 B.C.) and second, the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.).
The East Zhou witnessed the decline of central government and the rise of feudal states. It is a time of political disunity. Powerful feudal lords barely paid allegiance to Zhou kings, whose domain drastically dwindled during this time. This political situation reflects in the development of hu vessels.
With the rise of local power, the bronze making flourished and new regional styles was formed. By the late Spring and Autumn period some decorations reflect the influence of animal style art from Central Asian nomads. In other regions, the decoration can show interlacing dragons.During the Warring States, the use of the hu vessel is although it is still used for rituals such as ancestral sacrifices, it also begin to take on a more personal use as could be seen from the new more secular decoration, often made by copper inlays. The sumptuous display of colors achieved by means of inlay became an essential feature of hu at this time. The shapes was also occasionally taking on a more square appearance.