20080215-zhou bronze elephant  count of yu 1050 bc u wash.jpg
Bronze elephant
Lengthy inscriptions found on some bronze vessels indicate the Zhou were not merely military-minded philistines as they have often been made out to be. Qu Yuan (340-277 B.C.), a poet from the Warring Staes Period, is regarded by some as the father of Chinese poetry. One of his most famous lines goes: “Long did I sigh to hold back tears, saddened I am by the grief of my people." He is still admired today. (See, Festivals, Dragon Boat Racing). Under the Zhou, the funerary custom of killing living beings to accompany the dead was replaced with the practice of burying people with pottery or wooden burial figures.

Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “Early Zhou art shows considerable continuities from Shang tradition. For the first two centuries of Zhou, all major vessel classes and all the main types of ornament used by the Shang continued to be used. Ancestors remained central to the religious imagination in Western Zhou times. Bronzes were often inscribed with reports to ancestors detailing the achievements of their descendants. Bronzes also continued to function as symbols of secular power, and were often given as gifts by the Zhou kings to their followers.[Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=]

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The great sage Confucius once lavishly praised the Western Zhou dynasty, saying "How culture flourished! I follow Zhou." The Western Zhou (1046 B.C. – 771 B.C.) developed a magnificent civilization upon the legacies of the Xia and Shang dynasties. It would exert a profound influence over the following millennia of political and cultural development, and ultimately shape the norms, morals, and customs of ancient China and the countries of East Asia. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Nobles had to wear various ornaments as a symbol of status and rank when attending important ceremonies, including ornate necklaces, artfully-designed bracelets and hand grips, and a variety of head ornaments, earrings, and ankle bracelets. The jade collection of the Duchess of Rui, created from more than a thousand pieces of jade, agate, and glass, is featured in this exhibition in its full entirety. These multicolored sets of strung ornaments were a potent symbol of the privileged status enjoyed by the aristocracy...In addition to jade, Zhou men of high status also wore gold ornaments on ceremonial robes or belts, to emphasize their power and position.” \=/

Good Websites and Sources on Early Chinese History: 1) Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu; 2) Chinese Text Project ctext.org ; 3) Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization depts.washington.edu ; 4) Zhou Dynasty Wikipedia Wikipedia ;
Books: "Cambridge History of Ancient China" edited by Michael Loewe and Edward Shaughnessy (1999, Cambridge University Press); "The Culture and Civilization of China", a massive, multi-volume series, (Yale University Press); "Mysteries of Ancient China: New Discoveries from the Early Dynasties" by Jessica Rawson (British Museum, 1996); “Early Chinese Religion” edited by John Lagerwey & Marc Kalinowski (Leiden: 2009)

Zhou Bronzes

bronze tiger on a water buffalo

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The bronzes of the early Western Zhou inherited the artistic styles from the late Shang, but they gradually changed and were completely different by the middle Zhou. In the early Western Zhou, a host of new vessels, shapes, and designs appeared. The form and style of writing in the inscriptions on bronzes was also distinct from those of earlier stages. During the late Western Zhou, the number of feudal states making their own bronze vessels increased, leading to the emergence of regional styles in the Eastern Zhou. New designs of large curled-tail phoenixes and tile patterning developed in the middle Western Zhou. In the late Western Zhou, "t'ao-t'ieh" mask patterns were transformed to yield new curved-hook, horizontal-scale, and descending-scale designs. During this period, the "chüeh", "chia", and "ku" wine vessels disappeared as the "kuei", "fu", "hsü", and "p'u" food containers increased in number, a change denoting the Zhou concern for food in its new mandate for governing the land.[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“The father and son, Kings Wen and Wu of Zhou, defeated the old regime of Shang and another son Duke of Zhou implemented a new institution of governance based on patriarchal feudalism. As "Zhou as a state is ancient yet as a dynasty its mandate is newly endowed" (Shijing the Classics of Poetry), its bronzes also exude an aura of "newness".Bronzes made during Early Zhou of the first four kings mostly inherited their shapes and motifs from those of late Shang, with growingly distinctive Zhou flavors (e.g. square-footed gui vessels) when its own rituals evolved toward maturity over the time, as evidenced in the bronze inscription records of jade usage. \=/

“Beginning in the mid-period under the subsequent five rulers, the artistic styles made a drastic turn; a multitude of brand-new functions, shapes and designs emerged. The old drink vessels jue, jia, and gu disappeared whereas food vessels such as gui, fu, xu, and pu increased, reflecting the new focus of Zhou on food. Tile motifs and patterns of phoenixes with large, curly tails also made their popular appearances; the inscriptions grew longer, in calligraphic forms and styles totally different from those of the early period. \=/

“The late Western Zhou under the final four kings saw another wave of new patterns. The animal masks dissolved into various new decorative patterns: boqu (hooked wave), chonghuan (double rings), and chuilin (vertical scale) and an increasing number of vessels were commissioned by regional feudal states, paving the way for Eastern Zhou's dazzling local styles. Above all, the most prominent feature of the period belonged in the richness of inscriptions, which denotes an advanced state in the use of writing. Upon this rich cultural soil would one day grow and blossom the refined fruits: the classics of the Chinese classics, the Books of Changes, of Documents, of Poetry, of Rites, of Music, and of History in the upcoming Spring and Autumn period.” \=/

Inscriptions on Zhou Bronzes

inscriptions from a bronze ding (early characters)

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Inscribing on bronzes, either by casting or engraving, is a characteristic of Chinese bronzes which makes them very uniquely different from those made in other cultures. The rich textual repertoire debuted with mostly clan or ancestor names during Shang and early Zhou, and around the mid-period of Western Zhou increasingly adopted the theme of "For Descendents to Forever Cherish", which gradually developed into a standard finishing statement for many inscriptions. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Polished bronze has a golden hue, which is why the term for inscriptions on bronzes is known in Chinese as "chin wen" (literally "golden writing"), an important characteristic of Chinese bronzes. Besides the themes of bronze inscriptions dealing with the worship of ancestors and wishes for descendants to treasure the vessels, other texts cast on bronzes provide first-hand material on war records, dowry and arranged marriages, mandates and ceremonies, cessions of land and treaties, as well as admonitions and awards. These offer actual records and the language of the period, like an unadulterated original version of the ancient "Book of Documents" opened before one's eyes. These historical documents from the ancients are all included in these inscriptions. While reading "chin wen", one can almost feel the presence of the ancients and hear them communicating. \=/

“The golden inscriptions are the end results of a series of processes which involve engraving, molding, and finally casting, of the handwritten originals; yet the cast texts still manage to reenact the superb calligraphy of the time. The calligraphic styles reflect the gradual development and forming of da zhuan (large seal script), evolving from powerful spontaneity of Shang and early Zhou, to solemn regularity during the mid-period, Wesernt Zhou, and to refined smoothness from late Western Zhou to early Spring and Autumn period. That more and more long texts appeared during mid to late Western Zhou is also a live illustration of Zhou's "elaborate textual repertoire" "preserved in golden inscriptions". \=/

“Bronze inscriptions also reveal the high art of writing at the time, even though the characters have undergone transformation from being written down initially to their engraving on mold pieces and casting in bronze. The writing style was bold and sturdy from the Shang to early Zhou period. It then became more orderly in the middle Western Zhou. During the late Western Zhou and early Spring and Autumn period (ca. 770~671 B.C.), it become rounded and delicate in the form of large seal script. Bronzes with long inscriptions increased during the middle and late Western Zhou, attesting to the richness and prosperity of Zhou as manifested in its bronze wares.” \=/

Bronze Age China

According to The Metropolitan Museum of Art: The long period of the Bronze Age in China, which began around 2000 B.C., saw the growth and maturity of a civilization that would be sustained in its essential aspects for another 2,000 years. In the early stages of this development, the process of urbanization went hand in hand with the establishment of a social order. In China, as in other societies, the mechanism that generated social cohesion, and at a later stage statecraft, was ritualization. As most of the paraphernalia for early rituals were made in bronze and as rituals carried such an important social function, it is perhaps possible to read into the forms and decorations of these objects some of the central concerns of the societies (at least the upper sectors of the societies) that produced them. [Source: Department of Asian Art, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York:The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. metmuseum.org\^/]

“There were probably a number of early centers of bronze technology, but the area along the Yellow River in present-day Henan Province emerged as the center of the most advanced and literate cultures of the time and became the seat of the political and military power of the Shang dynasty (ca. 1600–1050 B.C.), the earliest archaeologically recorded dynasty in Chinese history. The Shang dynasty was conquered by the people of Zhou, who came from farther up the Yellow River in the area of Xi'an in Shaanxi Province. In the first years of the Zhou dynasty (ca. 1046–256 B.C.), known as the Western Zhou (ca. 1046–771 B.C.), the ruling house of Zhou exercised a certain degree of "imperial" power over most of central China. With the move of the capital to Luoyang in 771 B.C., however, the power of the Zhou rulers declined and the country divided into a number of nearly autonomous feudal states with nominal allegiance to the emperor. The second phase of the Zhou dynasty, known as the Eastern Zhou (771–256 B.C.), is subdivided into two periods, the Spring and Autumn period (770–ca. 475 B.C.) and the Warring States period (ca. 475–221 B.C.). During the Warring States period, seven major states contended for supreme control of the country, ending with the unification of China under the Qin in 221 B.C. \^/

“Although there is uncertainty as to when metallurgy began in China, there is reason to believe that early bronzeworking developed autonomously, independent of outside influences. The era of the Shang and the Zhou dynasties is generally known as the Bronze Age of China, because bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, used to fashion weapons, parts of chariots, and ritual vessels, played an important role in the material culture of the time. Iron appeared in China toward the end of the period, during the Eastern Zhou dynasty.” \^/

“The earliest Chinese bronzes were made by the method known as piece-mold casting—as opposed to the lost-wax method, which was used in all other Bronze Age cultures. In piece-mold casting, a model is made of the object to be cast, and a clay mold taken of the model. The mold is then cut in sections to release the model, and the sections are reassembled after firing to form the mold for casting. If the object to be cast is a vessel, a core has to be placed inside the mold to provide the vessel's cavity. The piece-mold method was most likely the only one used in China until at least the end of the Shang dynasty. An advantage of this rather cumbersome way of casting bronze was that the decorative patterns could be carved or stamped directly on the inner surface of the mold before it was fired. This technique enabled the bronzeworker to achieve a high degree of sharpness and definition in even the most intricate designs.” \^/

Development of Zhou Bronze

bronze horn with inscriptions

According to the Shanghai Museum: “ Bronze technology reached its apex during the late Shang and early Western Zhou dynasties. Ritual system characterized by bronze wine vessels became more sophisticated. The entire body of vessels was often covered with both high and low relief, showing marvelous and elegant patterns. They also expressed dignity and mystery by using animal image and deity motifs. Inscriptions first appeared on the late Shang bronzes. Then long inscriptions characterized the Western Zhou bronzes. [Source: Shanghai Museum shanghaimuseum.net /+\ ]

“During the middle and late Western Zhou dynasty, food vessels gradually dominated ritual system. This system was characterized by using a series of bronze such as tripods Ding, bells and other bronze vessels to indicate stratification. New bronze artifacts with imposing and elegant style emerged. Decorative motifs consisted of modified animal designs expressed by either flowing curvilinear lines or single straight strokes. Bronze inscriptions were very popular. Some important large vessels usually have long inscriptions. During the early Spring and Autumn period, bronze artifacts continued the traditions of the middle and late Western Zhou period. /+\

“Chinese bronze reached the second climax from the middle Spring and Autumn to the Warring States Period. Along with the development of bronze industries in feudal states, local products with unique styles appeared. Bronze of the States Jin and Qin in the North, those of Qi and Ru in the East, and those of Chu in the South reflected mutual exchange of ideas and technology and great artistic achievements. Along with a trend of practical use in daily life, the ritual function of bronze vessels gradually diminished. Many new bronzes with delicate styles appeared. Characters used for inscriptions were beautiful. The lost-wax casting technique and the use of impressed molds enabled artisans to obtain rich inlay decoration of extraordinary delicacy and intricacy. /+\

“During the Eastern Zhou, Qin and Han dynasties, bronze casting technology flourished among the minority peoples living in the frontiers. Yue minority in the South, Ba-Shu in the West, Yi in the Southwest, and Xiongnu in the North all developed their own bronze industries. Their bronzes were deeply influenced by the Shang and Zhou traditions in the Central Plains, but also showed unique features and styles.” /+\

Shang and Zhou Ritual Bronzes

Some of the oldest works of art from China are bronze vessels. The oldest ones date back to the Xia dynasty (2200 to 1766 B.C), when the legendary Yellow Emperor is said to have cast nine bronze tripods to symbolize the nine provinces in his empire.

Most ritual bronze vessels date back to the Shang Dynasty and the Zhou Dynasty (1122-221 B.C). These bronze vessels included elaborately-decorated caldrons, wine jars and water vessels that were used to offer food and drink to spirits, gods and deceased ancestors in political and spiritual ceremonies and rituals. Shang ritual vessels including ding caldrons, used to ritually prepare food for royal ancestors; Lei, large elaborately decorated vessels used to store wine; and yu basins, which may have been used to boil water or steam food.

Bronze vessels symbolized rank and often contained references to ancient imperial ethos, culture and music. One of the National Palace Museum's most prized bronze pieces is a yu wine container from the 11th century B.C. Another beautiful bronze piece is an 8th century B.C. water vessel, used for ritual offerings, with animal-shaped handles and legs in the form of human figures. Scholars believe the bronze vessels were likely copies of ceramic vessels. A fine white pottery was made during the Shang Dynasty. Many ceramic vessels were similar in size and shape to bronze vessels made during the same period.

Bronze vessels often bore inscriptions that said “This container has been made to commemorate” so and so and were often given as presents to officials from leaders as rewards. Many ancient bronzes were removed from China, especially in the early 20th century, and few have been given back or carefully studied. Shang bronzes fetch high prices at international art auctions and are sought after by looters. A 12th century B.C. Shang owl was sold for around $3 million at an auction in 2000.

Styles of Zhou Bronzes

10th century ritual wine vessel

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Bronze styles of Western Zhou can be divided into three stages. Early productions continued the stern and fearsome characteristics of Shang bronzes. By the middle stage, the Zhou had developed their own styles in designs and patterns, emphasizing a wavy, flowing visual effect. The late stage was marked by a return to modest lines and balanced geometrical designs. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

1) The Early Stage: During the early Western Zhou, the style of bronzes continued the tradition of the late Shang, with straight and stern, slightly top-heavy designs, creating an effect of strength and stability. Patterns mostly feature animal faces and dragons in high relief or bas-relief. Together with flanges projecting from the sides, this produces a stern and fearsome visual effect. \=/

2) The Middle Stage: By the middle Western Zhou, the unique Zhou characteristics of bronzes had reached maturity, with broader, shorter designs as compared with early bronzes. The overall visual effect was that of elegance and exquisitely curved outlines. Animal faces were replaced by symmetrical phoenix patterns, with long, curving lines forming a rich and flowing style.

3) The Late Stage: The late Western Zhou saw a loss of curvature in bronze designs, eliciting a modest visual effect. Patterns evolved into geometrical shapes with no visible themes, using long, level lines to establish a simple artistic elegance. \=/

Western Zhou bronzes were all produced using piece-mold casting, by pouring the molten copper-tin alloy between a clay core and an outer mold. Once cooled, the finished piece was released from the mold. The creation of patterns on the clay mold was usually performed by sketching an outline upon the clay, and then forming the pattern through incision or molding, creating a relief effect. \=/

Warring State Bronzes from Marquis Yi's Tomb

On the bronzes dated to 430 B.C. found in Marquis Ti’s Tomb, Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “The late Zhou saw important changes in the function and style of bronzes. During the Shang and the Western Zhou bronze vessels had been used primarily for sacrifices to the ancestors, both in life and after death. During the Warring States period, however, bronze vessels began to be seen as luxury items in their own right and were increasingly disassociated from the realm of religious ritual. Sacrificial vessels were still necessary, but those tended to be plainer in appearance than the vessels for display and feasting. Bronzes became larger in size and more ornate in appearance, as shown in the extensive use of gold and silver inlay. In keeping with their new role as commodities, most bronze vessels of the Warring States period lack significant inscriptions. The inscriptions on Marquis Yi's bronzes refer to the owner, but not to ancestors. [Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=]

A bronze zun (wine vessel) and matching bronze pan (plate) was was made by a complex process of multiple casting. The vessels themselves were cast by the traditional piece-mold technique, but the intricate decoration was done by a new casting process and then soldered to the vessels. The zun is 33.1 centimeters tall, with a mouth diameter of 47.3 centimeters and weighs 19.2 kilograms. Pair of massive bronze wine vessels (hu) are 111 centimeters tall and weigh 240 kilograms They fit into circular openings in the matching stand. A cast inscription inside the neck of each hu reads: "Marquis Yi of Zeng commissioned [this vessel]; may he possess and use it for eternity."

There is also a set of bronze vessels for cooling or warming wine. The square outer vessel (jian) has a smaller inner vessel (fou) hooked onto its bottom. A removable grate with a square opening holds the neck of the inner vessel. Wine was cooled by filling the space between the two vessels with ice. The set was found with a large serving ladle. The bronze sets were found together in the central chamber of the tomb. Bronze vessel for cooling or warming wine is 61.5 centimeters tall and weighs 168.8. kilograms.

One of the innovations of late Zhou bronzes is the development of inlay designs. While inlays were created in Near Eastern workshops by applying designs to the cold surface of an undecorated bronze, the Chinese craftsman obtained similar result sby casting depressions into the bronze to receive the inlay. Bronze creature, 143 centimeters long, weighing 38.4 kilograms, has wings with rims that were once inlaid with turquoise. The stand was originally inlaid with semiprecious stones. It was found next to the double coffins of the marquis. Other bronze objects include a scoop (height: 24 centimeters, weight: 2.6 kilograms), pan (height: 11 centimeters tall, weight: 8.8 kilograms) and a brazier (height: 21.3 centimeters, diameter: 39.4 centimeters, weight: 8.4 kilograms.

Chu state lacquer coffin

Lacquer Objects from the Warring States Period

On the lacquer objects bronzes dated to 430 B.C. found in Marquis Ti’s Tomb, Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “Lacquer, which is highly toxic in the raw, is extracted from the sap of the lac tree indigenous to China. The process of lacquering wood and other materials was invented in China and used to waterproof bamboo and wooden objects as early as Neolithic times, though few pieces survive before the Warring States period. Lacquerware was considered a wonderful luxury because of the hazardous and laborious process involved in making such objects. Highly skilled craftsmen had to apply many thin layers of lacquer to achieve the final effect of a glossy coating. Although we cannot be sure of the cost of the lacquer items in Marquis Yi's tomb, a later text from the first century B.C. reports that the price of lacquer was ten times that of bronze. [Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=]

The lacquered outer coffin is 3.2 meters long, 1.2 meters wide and 2.19 meters high. The lacquered inner coffin is 2.49 meters long, 1.27 meters wide and 1.32 meters high. Various creatures are depicted on the coffins. In the Chu culture a large number of spiritual powers both benign and malevolent were venerated and feared. These beings were not understood as ancestors, though they do have the power to interfere in human affairs. In representations they frequently take animal and semi-human form. Scholars are not sure of the role of these creatures played.

The cover of a lacquer trunk decorated with 28 lunar mansions (divisions of the sky). A dragon is represented on one end of the lid, a tiger on the other. This is the earliest known celestial map in China. A lacquer stag (height: 86.8 centimeters, length: 50 centimeters) was found in the marquis' burial chamber. The movable head is fixed with real deer antlers. The body is decorated with small almond shaped designs and tiny dots to resemble the coat of a deer. An unusual lacquer box-cover (length: 82.7 centimeters, height: 44.8 centimeters) is shaped like a duck. The duck has a removable lid on its back and the head can be turned from side to side. It was found in the western chamber, which contained the remains of 13 young women. There were fewer objects in this chamber than the others, but this box stands out for its high level of craftsmanship. The surface is lacquered in black and decorated with red and yellow painting. There is also a lacquer mandarin duck (height: 16.3 centimeters, length: 20.4 centimeters).

Jade in the Zhou Dynasty

During the Shang and Zhou dynasties jade objects were important objects in ceremonies and rituals. In the Western Zhou period (1100-700 B.C.) the type and number of circular jades used in ceremonies represented a person's social status. Circular jades from this period were often cut into symmetrical pieces to form sets of two or three. During the Zhou period jade pendants were very popular and the level of their craftsmanship was very high. Circular jades made during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States period (722-221 B.C.) were smaller than those from the Shang and early Zhou periods. They contained carved images of curling chih dragons, grain seeds, and cloud patterns. During this period circular jades were commonly worn by people. Materials other than jade, such as agate and glass were used to make "jade" ornaments.

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Aside from being instruments for ritual summoning and differentiating status and rank, jade could be used as ornaments as well. Jade ornaments were typically used to emphasize status at important ceremonies. For the living, jade exemplified many virtues, and was representative of the inner character of true gentlemen. For the deceased, jade could strengthen the spiritual energy of the soul, and assist the spirit in reaching heaven. Thus a wide variety of jade artifacts have been unearthed at Zhou archaeological sites, some organized in sets for different purposes and occasions. In addition to its contemporary works, the Zhou were interested in collecting pieces from the past, and enjoyed modifying or recombining pieces to form new designs. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei\=/ ]

“Jade and stone artifacts were produced along similar principles of cutting, hollowing, sanding, and polishing. The primary tools used were blades, string tools, cutting wheels, and solid or hollow drills. Because the hardness of common metal tools was inadequate, mineral abrasives (jade sand) were used for sanding and polishing. \=/

jade birds

“Western Zhou jade artifacts were mostly in the form of strung ornaments designed to highlight the wearer's noble status. Designs were mostly plate-shaped, with curved lines to create a flowing effect. Early styles continued the Shang tradition of solemnity and gravity; but by the middle Western Zhou dynasty, grandness and exquisiteness in design became the preferred style. From the late Western Zhou dynasty to the early Spring and Autumn period, designs became more simplistic, and the overall artistic style was one of unpretentious elegance. \=/

“Through inheritance, gift-giving, barter, commerce, and plunder, the Zhou acquired jade from many different eras and places. Some ancient jade pieces became part of the collections of the Zhou nobles, and some took on new purposes that suited their shape or design. The rest continued to serve the original purposes for which they were produced. \=/

“During the middle Western Zhou, early jade objects were often modified to suit new purposes. The phenomenon became more widespread from the late Western Zhou dynasty to the early Spring and Autumn period, and may have been the result of a lack of raw material, or could be due to a change of taste from the old designs. New concepts and ideology may also have played a role.” \=/

“Overall, we witness the ascendance of humanism and the decline of shamanism by the Eastern Zhou period. Ritual objects for sacrificial worship and burial are made from lower-grade materials and roughly fashioned, serving simply to represent the fine jade objects that once served these purposes. The most beautiful and refined jades of this time were used by high nobles during their lifetime as offerings to their lords, adornments, and curios. These consisted of the many objects mentioned above, as well as functional objects, such as the belt hooks, belt plaques, hairpins, and combs found in this exhibit, and sculptural pieces, such as amulets with winged beasts and figures and staff pommels in the form of turtledoves.” [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

Jade in the Eastern Zhou Period

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Zhou patriarchal system gradually collapsed in the latter half of the dynasty, known as the Eastern Zhou period, leaving a new upper class in its place. This period also saw the development of thriving trade and commercial activity with remote regions, leading to a vast increase in the supply of fine jade from the Kunlun Mountains in eastern Central Asia. It was a time, moreover, of greater intellectual freedom and increased contact with the pastoral tribes on the northern and western frontiers. The jade forms and designs of these areas were consequently incorporated by the Zhou. These new influences, together with the development of iron tools and sophisticated lapidary techniques, brought jade carving to an unequaled level of beauty and refinement. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“During this period, ritual jades were used for sacrifices, ceremonially exchanged between nobles, worn as adornments, and interred in graves. The most important ritual jades were the kuei tablet and pi disc. The kuei was stylized from the jade ko dagger and retained the peaked top of its predecessor. In small- to medium-sized graves of Eastern Zhou nobles, the deceased are buried with stone kuei tablets and pi discs. By the Han dynasty, jade kuei tablets were buried only in the tombs of emperors and the kings of vassal states. At several sacrificial sites throughout the empire, kuei tablets and pi discs are found placed together as a set. In successive dynasties, the two are even fashioned together. \=/

“In its funerary function, jade was placed in the mouth, hands, ears, nostrils and other orifices of the corpse. In many tombs, the deceased is buried with a jade face cover or placed in a jade shroud. The latter, commonly known as a “jade suit,” was made of small jade plaques tied together with wire or silk thread. The body was totally encased, except for the round opening of a pi disc at the top of the head. It was believed that the hole served as a conduit for the spirit to return to heaven. Pi discs were also laid on and beneath the corpse, affixed to the top end of the coffin, and hung from its four corners. Funerary pi were depicted on silk tapestries, lacquer coffins, tile, and stone, and fashioned from various materials, such as pottery, wood, lacquer, and bronze. Some bronze pi are cast with the characters “t’ien-men” (the gate of heaven). The wide use of pi discs in the Warring States and Han dynasty tombs to conduct the soul to heaven continues a practice apparent in Neolithic graves of the Liang-chu Culture as well. From archeological evidence, we know that the Liang-chu Culture produced jade face covers and lacquer cups and plates with jade inlay. The jade cups and chih vessels displayed in this exhibit were probably used by the Zhou and Han nobility to collect morning dew for making elixirs of immortality. All of these pieces indicate that the ancient customs of the Yueh in the Yangtze River valley were revived by the Eastern Zhou and Han.” \=/

Zhou Jade Pendants, Jewelry and Ornaments

jade seated bear

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Western Zhou pendants were “usually hung around the neck...The dominant designs are dragons, tigers, and humans. As the ritual traditions of the Western Zhou matured, these adornments became progressively more refined. The longer the pendants were, the more slowly and dignified the wearer had to walk. It also has been observed that in many of the graves of high-ranking nobles, the number of huang [jade pieces] in the pendant set worn by the deceased corresponds exactly to the number of bronze ting vessels in the coffin. This phenomenon is an area of Western Zhou rites that is worthy of further study. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“During the Zhou and Han periods, it was also customary for the nobility to wear elaborate sets of jade pendants to symbolize their high social position. Most were hung from the waist and consisted of various kinds of huang pendants and pi discs, as well as huan rings and jade pendants with dragon and phoenix decor strung together with silk cord. Each is an integral work of art by itself, with a noble quality that is further heightened when joined as a set. On several of the pendants in this exhibit, the nose, ears, horns, jaw, tongue, and limb joints of the dragon motif have disintegrated into full and round cloud scrolls, gradually developing into the comma-shaped ku (millet grain) pattern. The coiling lines perhaps represent the mystical power of the endlessly evolving universe. When worn by a chun-tzu (gentleman), pendants with these patterns were known as “adornments of virtue” (te-p’ei). The chun-tzu walked with particular dignity and composure when wearing this adornment. \=/

“Another jade adornment from this period is the thumb ring. Originally used by archers for hooking bowstrings, they developed as a decorative object during the late Warring States period and were further refined in this function during the Han. Jade thumb-ring shaped pendants were sometimes threaded together as “adornments of virtue,” and most were worn separately. Sometimes they are found in tombs with jade seals, huan rings, knives, and sword fittings. Some examples of jade seals, jade sword fittings, and bronze knives with jade handles and scabbards are displayed in this exhibit.” \=/

Zhou-Era Jade Figures, Knives and Discs

Examples of Zhou Jade in the National Palace Museum collection include: 1) Boar (length: 4 centimeters: height: 2.7 centimeters, thickness: 0.8 centimeters): This standing boar is carved from a piece of fine lustrous brownish-yellow jade that is only 0.8 centimeters thick. A small hole drilled through the neck area indicates that this was once suspended as a pendant. The boar is distinguished by its pointed snout, large ears, lowered head, straight tail, and slender legs. The delicate relief carving of the facial area suggests the eyes and tusks. The lines are simple yet elegant, and the pose is convincing and relaxed. Many animals are represented in Western Zhou jade carving, but the boar is rarely found--making this exceptional jade even more significant. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/]

bird-shaped jade ge

2) Human Figure: (Height: 4.9 centimeters, width: 1.8 centimeters, thickness: 1.3 centimeters): Parts of this light green jade have turned white, and traces of cinnabar and rust are evident. The form was apparently patterned after the shape of the original piece of jade. The almost comical expression and exaggerated features of the face distinguish it. Representing a male figure wearing robes, his head tilts to one side. With his right arm and shoulder exposed, his belly is shown protruding. His hair is neatly arranged into a topknot, the cords of which draped around his neck to the front of his chest. A hole was drilled through the topknot so that it could be suspended. The lively expression of this piece is complemented by the fine carving. A mid-Western Han bronze figure has been excavated with facial features and topknot similar to those found here. \=/

Bronze Knife with Jade Handle and Hilt: This is an ornate and unusual knife set. The date when it was made was probably no earlier than the late Western Han, because the design and representation of the human forms on one side of the jade handle is in the late Western Han style. The coiling dragon form of the gilt bronze decoration on the hilt is also in the Han style. The dragon design on the hilt itself, however, is in the late Spring and Autumn style. Thus, the inside of an old block of jade was carved out for a new purpose. The ends of this rectangular hilt are wider than the body and similar to a jade handle discovered in Henan province. Carved on the center of the hilt are two curled-snout dragon heads back to back along with a linear pattern, which are also similar to jades unearthed from Henan and Jiangsu. Dragon designs are also found on either end of the hilt. Dagger and handle: length; 15 centimeters; handle width: 3.6 centimeters; handle thickness: 0.3 centimeters; Hilt: length: 13 centimeters; bronze inlay: width: 4.85 centimeters, thickness; 0.65 centimeters. Total length: 16 centimeters. \=/

'Perpetual Happiness' Disc (outer diameter: 16.2 centimeters, hole diameter: 3.75 centimeters, thickness: 0.65 centimeters): Carved from opaque white and grey jade, the design on either side of this piece are the same. The design is composed of two concentric bands of designs around the hole. The inner band is done in openwork with two characters above and two below. The ones above read “ch’ang-lo” (perpetual happiness) and those below “wei-yang” (never-ending). To either side of the characters are a dragon and tiger design also done in openwork. The head of the dragon is shown in profile, and it has wings and scales. The head of the tiger is shown in frontal view, and even the fur is evident. The outer band is decorated in low relief with the four spirit animals known as the “blue dragon,” “white tiger,” “red phoenix,” and “black hsuan-wu (serpent and turtle).” The design on the other is almost identical, except for the starting point of the “blue dragon.” In front of the mouths of the “blue dragon” and “red phoenix” on front side are symbols of the sun, while near the tail of the “white tiger” is a symbol of the moon. The three of them are evenly arranged on the surface. This disc may have been used as a form of tribute. \=/

At present, there are more than ten Eastern Han style discs that have images of spirit animals either carved in relief or in openwork. At least ten of them have auspicious characters, and the dragon and tiger are the two spirit animals most commonly seen. Some also bear all four spirit animals, but only with a short small dragon (representing a serpent) or a turtle to represent the hsuan-wu combination of the serpent and turtle — but with no characters. Only this beautiful disc has not only two two-character combinations but also the full pairing of turtle and serpent to represent hsuan-wu. The carving and design are also exceptionally fine, making this a remarkable jade.” \=/

Zhou-Era Jade Pendants

interlocked dragons

Examples of Zhou jade pendants in the National Palace Museum collection include: 1) Pendant with Human and Dragon Motifs: (height: 11 centimeters, width: 3.7 centimeters, thickness: 0.7 centimeters): Carved from green jade, many of the engraved lines here still retain traces of cinnabar. Carved in profile are parts of human and dragon forms. The prominent features of the human heads above, facing in opposite directions, are topped by differing crowns. The torso only reveals the lower half of the body as if sitting in a position with the legs tucked in. The human forms blend with the three coiled dragon motifs found on this piece. The human faces appear similar but are differentiated by the crowns. Two circular holes were drilled from one side through the neck of the upper dragon, indicating this once was suspended as a pendant. This object appears similar to a figurine excavated from Chang-chia-p’o, only longer and larger. The decoration is also more vigorous. The bodies of the humans and dragons are decorated with pairs of engraved lines. The high, spiraling crown is close to one found on an early Western Zhou jade figurine excavated in Kansu (west-central China). Thus, this work represents an early style in the middle of the Western Zhou. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

Tiger Pendant (length: 11 centimeters, width: 3.4 centimeters, thickness: 0.3 centimeters): Originally greenish, much of the surface of this jade has stained to a light-to-dark brown color. Carved from a flat piece of jade, a tiger appears walking forward with its head lowered and tail curled. The decoration on either side differs slightly. In addition to the triangular cloud-like forms on the limbs and torso, one side (above) has curved lines on the neck and belly. The end of the tail is also marked by fine engraved lines. The rump of the tiger on the other side (below) includes dragon heads in the decoration, and the rest of the pattern is composed of abstract dragon heads, cloud-head shapes, and triangular cloud designs. The tail on this side also has arched designs and fine diagonal lines. \=/

Double Dragon Pendant from Ch'in: (height: 5 centimeters, width: 4.8 centimeters, thickness: 0.4 centimeters): Brown splotches cover this pendant carved from semi-translucent light green jade. This unusual drum-shaped pendant is marked by openwork in the upper, lower, and center areas. The front is covered with fine decoration, while the reverse is plain. Two drilled holes allowed it to be suspended. A similar jade was excavated from a Ch’in tomb in Shaanxi. According to research, the pattern here represents an abstract design of two coiled dragons. The openwork above and below represent the heads of the two dragons, while the openwork in the center represents the claws. The surface is composed of geometric designs with a single small dragon head in the upper right corner of the piece (see diagram). This is a feature of jade carving from the State of Ch’in during the Spring and Autumn Period. \=/

Zhou Tomb of Count of Yu

Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “Zhou rulers, like their Shang predecessors, devoted considerable resources to tombs. The tomb we examine here dates from the earliest years of the Zhou dynasty. It is Rujiazhuang Tomb 1, dated around 950-900 B.C. and located in present-day Shaanxi province. Based on inscriptions found on bronze vessels, scholars believe that Tomb 1 belonged to a Count of Yu and his wife, Jing Ji. They also surmise that the occupant of Tomb 2, partly overlapping Tomb 1, was Count Yu's concubine, but this is less certain. [Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=]

“The pit of Tomb 1 is 12.2 meters deep and measures 8.4 meters by 5.2 meters at the bottom. Within it are two wooden chambers, both with coffins. One human sacrifice was placed at the entry of the tomb, and six others between the tomb wall and the chambers. Burial goods were placed both inside and outside the chambers. Outside were three chariot wheels and some pottery containers. Inside were bronze vessels, weapons, and tools. Textile imprints were found within the chambers as well. Most of the jade objects were placed on the dead. /=\

Altogether the tomb of the count contained: A) Over 2,700 bronze objects, including 33 vessels and 13 weapons; B) 4 musical instruments; C) over 100 chariot parts; D) 11 pieces of pottery; E) over 280 jade and stone objects. The tomb of his wife Jing Ji contained: A) 10 bronze vessels; and B) over 280 jade and stone objects. Some of the bronzes in the tomb present entirely new shapes. These including a bronze elephant (height: 22 centimeters, length: 38 centimeters); a bird vessel (height 15.5 centimeters, length 21.4 centimeters); a new-style bronze ding (height: 121.4 centimeters); and a bronze human figure (height: 11.6 centimeters). Movement is suggested in some unique jade deer pendants.

Treasures in Marquis Yi's Four-Chambered Tomb

water vessel from the tomb of Marquis Yi

Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “Evidence of the distinctive style of Chu court workshops can be seen in the objects found in the tomb of Marquis Yi. Dated around 430 B.C., this tomb is located in present-day Hubei Province. Inscriptions on the bronzes found at the site identify the tomb as that of a marquis of the state of Zeng, a small state then under the domination of Chu. The tomb is 21 meters long, 16.5 meters wide, and 13 meters deep, making it 220 square meters in area. It has four chambers. The eastern chamber contained the marquis's lacquered double coffin, the coffins of eight young women, and a dog in its own coffin. The chamber also contained weapons, a chariot, and many personal items, including furniture, a zither, silk, and vessels -- but no bronze vessels. The central chamber seems to have been a ceremonial hall, with a large set of bronze bells and other instruments, as well as bronze ritual vessels. The northern chamber served as an armory and storeroom, the western chamber, where thirteen more young women were buried, as servants' quarters. [Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=]

Altogether Marquis Yi's tomb contained: A) 124 musical instruments, including bells, chimes, drums, zithers, pipes, and flutes; B) 134 bronze vessels and other bronze household items; C) 4,777 weapons, mostly made of bronze; D) 1,127 bronze chariot parts; E) 25 pieces of leather armor; F) 5,012 pieces of lacquer ware; G) 26 bamboo articles; H) 5 gold objects and 4 gold belt hooks; I) 528 jade and stone objects; and J) 6,696 Chinese characters written in ink on slips of bamboo. /=\

Gold objects include a 11.1 centimeter-tall cup and a covered gold bowl with ladle (height: 10.7 centimeters, weight: 2.15 kilograms, weight of ladle: 50 grams). Ebrey wrote: The bowl was found with a matching ladle inside. It stands on S-shaped zoomorphic feet and is decorated with a pattern of interlaced dragons on the body...Opulent vessels in gold testify to the wealth of Marquis Yi. Solid gold vessels from pre-imperial China are extremely rare, probably because of the cost of the material. The bowl below, at six inches diameter and almost five pounds, is the largest gold object of its kind from the pre-Qin period. It was found in the eastern chamber beneath the marquis' coffin along with the gold goblet to the right. In addition, four gold belt hooks were inside the inner coffin. /=\

“A jade chain is formed of moveable parts joined by links. Four of the links are partly of gold and can be detached; eight are created from openwork carving and can't be undone. In addition to the openwork carving, the chain is also decorated with relief carvings of birds and dragons or snakes. The chain can be separated into five pieces or joined into one, folded or opened.” /=\

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, University of Washington

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated September 2016

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.