BRONZE IN CHINA
The oldest example of bronze yet discovered in China is a 5,000-year-old bronze knife found at a Yellow-River-based Yangshao culture site. Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “In addition to pottery, amidst the array of wooden, stone, and bone implements found at Yangshao sites is the earliest bronze implement yet found in China. It is a knife, dating to about 3000 B.C. Unless and until an earlier example appears elsewhere,Yangshao culture must be seen as the source of China’s transition into the Bronze Age.” Its seems possible or likely that this this knife was obtained through trade rather than manufactured locally. Slag heaps nearby suggest that the site where it was found was one where bronze manufacture was well known. Nevertheless, it is not until the beginning of the Shang over 1000 years later that we see the birth of a true bronze culture in China. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu ]
A symbol of China's ancient civilization and cultural heritage, bronze objects have been regarded as important treasures since the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Around the 21th century B.C., China entered the Bronze Age. The Erlitou culture of the late Xia dynasty was the earliest bronze culture so far known in China. Bronze containers, musical instruments, weapons, implements and ornaments, as well as foundry features have been found at the site. Ritual bronze artifacts of this period were thin-walled and cast by skilled technique. Their styles began to display certain standardization. The manufacture of these bronze artifacts symbolized that ancient China stepped into civilization. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]
Bronze Age artisans mastered complex casting techniques and produced vessels with rich decoration. The Shang Dynasty (1600 to 1046 B.C.) is regarded as China’s first real Bronze Age culture Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “It was the Shang people who located deposits of copper and tin and learned the art of forging bronze. Significant bronze metallurgy in China dates back to 2000 B.C., significantly later than southeastern Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, where it developed around 3600 B.C. to 3000 B.C. The oldest bronze vessels date back to the Xia ( Hsia ) dynasty (2200 to 1766 B.C.).
See Separate Articles: XIA DYNASTY (2200-1700 B.C.): factsanddetails.com ; SHANG DYNASTY ART, BRONZE, JADE AND TECHNOLOGY factsanddetails.com ; ZHOU DYNASTY (1046-256 B.C) ART: BRONZE, JADE AND LACQUER factsanddetails.com ; HAN DYNASTY ART: BRONZE MIRRORS, JADE SUITS AND TOMB FIGURES factsanddetails.com
Bronze Age China
The Bronze Age in China started in the late Xia dynasty (ca. 21st century to 17th century B.C.) and lasted through the Shang (1600-1046 B.C.), Western Zhou (1046-771 B.C.) and into the Easern Zhou (770-221 B.C.) period, lasting for about 1,500 years in all. Prior to the Bronze Age in China, tools were fashioned from wood and stone. It is customary in speaking about pre-Bronze Age China to distinguish between the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) and Neolithic (New Stone Age) periods, a division employed in prehistoric studies worldwide. In China, the Neolithic period, which is the period in which the age of stone tools overlaps the age of agriculture, begins about 7000 B.C. In the period from the fifth to the third century BC, China’s Iron Age began, but the metal industry was still dominated by bronze casting.
According to the Shanghai Museum: Bronzes were highly valued and used mainly by the supper classes for ceremonial purposes. The variety and quality of vessels used for an events could be a reflection on the owner’s social status and power. Bronzes were caste is great variety of shapes with a variety of uses and designs mostly in the Yellow and Yangtze river areas but in other regions as well. Bronze technology and craftsmen was of the most important achievements of ancient Chinese civilizations
According to The Metropolitan Museum of Art: The long period of the Bronze Age in China 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\^/]
“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.” \^/
Bronze and Civilization in China
Yu Kuo-ching wrote:“Bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, has a low melting point and a high density. When cast, bronze has the advantages of minimum air bubble production and maximum flow quality and can produce objects with razor-sharp edges or exquisite decoration, making it suitable for durable weapons, tools, and containers. Bronze objects were employed as long as four thousand years ago in the period of the Lungshan culture and reached their peak as ceremonial vessels in the Shang (1766-1220 B.C.) and Zhou (1122-255 B.C.) dynasties.[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Shang and Zhou dynasties (1600-221 B.C.) were periods crucial to the formation of Chinese civilization. The argument can be presented from the following perspectives: 1) within the political realm, the preconceived theocracy combined with political ideology to yield an awareness of humanism and propriety; 2) with respect to material culture, the rise of bronze casting initiated a new era of ritual weaponry; and breakthroughs in craftsmanship gave rise to the industries of jade, ivory, bone, pottery; 3) in terms of the spiritual, the two important affairs of state at the time (ritual and warfare) mandated that awe and reverence be conveyed for the gods and ancestors, a necessity achieved through the production of bronzes, jades, and pottery in various shapes and patterns. The casting of inscriptions on bronzes also provided a record of ritual banquets, military conquests, rewards, and the conferring of nobility.
“Bronze wares and jade objects were highly valued, since the materials for making them were not easily accessible and the processes of craftsmanship (casting and grinding) were extremely difficult. The bronzes and jades displayed in a ritual ceremony and in sets excavated from tombs carried on the essence of "ritual" and "music", bridging the realms of life and death. In fact, it was Confucius who said, "Treat the living with rituals; and bury and worship the deceased with rituals as well."
Ritual Importance of Bronze in China
Yu Kuo-ching wrote:“The spiritual practices of the Shang dynasty people arose from the belief that the spirits of ancestors in the supernatural world were forever in control of man's earthly well-being, making it necessary to constantly offer prayers and food to them. Oracle bone inscriptions tell us that not only did the people of the Shang dynasty offer sacrifices to a wide range of phenomena, but their ceremonies were varied and complex. Vessels used by the ruling house and nobility to offer food or wine in these sacrificial ceremonies were cast of bronze. Their types were extremely varied; many had their origin in everyday objects of pottery or wood. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw \=/]
“An ancient text records that the Zhou followed the rituals of the Shang. Taking the Shang ceremonies as a base, the Duke of Zhou established a canon of rituals and music and founded the orthodox hierarchy of social rank within the feudal clans. Together, these constituted the system of rites responsible for maintaining social order. In the performance of rituals, the types and numbers of vessels employed - whether food, wine, water, or musical vessels - were functions of the position or rank of the personage conducting the ceremony. Bronze ritual objects were generally referred to as ritual vessels as a reflection of this ceremonial system.
According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: In Bronze Age China “only the nobility were allowed to use precious bronze to cast vessels. As a saying went, "Ritual and warfare are the most important affairs of a state." Therefore, apart from being used for weaponry, bronze was mainly used for making ritual objects for sacrifices to ancestors in hopes of preserving the family lifeline. From the arrangement of ritual wares and the quantity of accompanying jade objects in a ceremony, one could discern the specific social status and position of a particular aristocrat. Thus, bronze and jade together became the most important media for ritual wares in the aristocratic society of the Shang and Zhou.[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
Development of Bronze Technology in China
Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “The development of metal-working technology represents a significant transition in Chinese history. The first known bronze vessels were found at Erlitou near the middle reaches of the Yellow River in northern central China. Most archaeologists now identify this site with the Xia dynasty (c. 2100-1600 B.C.) mentioned in ancient texts as the first of the three ancient dynasties (Xia, Shang, and Zhou). [Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=]
It was during the Shang (1600-1050 B.C.), however, that bronze-casting was perfected. Bronze was used for weapons, chariots, horse trappings, and above all for the ritual vessels with which the ruler would perform sacrifices to the ancestors. The high level of workmanship seen in the bronzes in Shang tombs suggests a stratified and highly organized society, with powerful rulers who were able to mobilize the human and material resources to mine, transport, and refine the ores, to manufacture and tool the clay models, cores, and molds used in the casting process, and to run the foundries...Altogether the bronzes found in Fu Hao's tomb weighed 1.6 metric tons, a sign of the enormous wealth of the royal family. These vessels were not only valuable by virtue of their material, a strong alloy of copper, tin, and lead, but also because of the difficult process of creating them. The piece-mold technique, used exclusively in China, required a great deal of time and skill.
According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “During the early and middle Shang dynasty, bronze casting technology fully developed. Ritual system represented mainly by wine vessels was established. Many bronze artifacts were decorated by animal image motifs, complex designs and bold, deeply cut linear elements. The mold-casting technique was getting sophisticated. Many vessels with complicated designs were cast separately, which laid a solid foundation for the further development of bronze craftsmanship. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]
“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. \=/
Stages of Bronze Development in China
Initial Stage: According to the Shanghai Museum:“Around the 21th century B.C., China entered the Bronze Age. The Erlitou culture of the late Xia dynasty was the earliest bronze culture so far known in China. Bronze containers, musical instruments, weapons, implements and ornaments, as well as foundry features have been found at the site. Ritual bronze artifacts of this period were thin-walled and cast by skilled technique. Their styles began to display certain standardization. The manufacture of these bronze artifacts symbolized that ancient China stepped into civilization. See Separate Article XIA DYNASTY (2200-1700 B.C.): factsanddetails.com
Formative Stage: During the early and middle Shang dynasty, bronze casting technology fully developed. Ritual system represented mainly by wine vessels was established. Many bronze artifacts were decorated by animal image motifs, complex designs and bold, deeply cut linear elements. The mold-casting technique was getting sophisticated. Many vessels with complicated designs were cast separately, which laid a solid foundation for the further development of bronze craftsmanship. See Separate Article SHANG DYNASTY ART, BRONZE, JADE AND TECHNOLOGY factsanddetails.com
Mature Stage: 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.
Transitional Stage: 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. See Separate Article ZHOU DYNASTY (1046-256 B.C) ART: BRONZE, JADE AND LACQUER factsanddetails.com
Renewal Stage: 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. [Source: Shanghai Museum shanghaimuseum.net]
Bronze-Making Sites in China
According to The Metropolitan Museum of Art: “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. [Source: Department of Asian Art, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York:The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. metmuseum.org\^/]
On Shang era bronze-making sites, Yuan Guangkuo wrote in “A Companion to Chinese Archaeology”: “Foundries for bronze casting were found in the cities of Zhengzhou (rank 1) and Panlongcheng (rank 3). Two important bronze foundries were identified at Zhengzhou named Nanguanwai (located in the south, between the smaller, inner enclosure and the outer wall) and Zijingshan (in the north, outside the inner enclosure). At Nanguanwai, the main crafts were bronze vessels and tools. The workers at Zijingshan specialized in the production of bronze knives. [Source: “Discovery and Study of the Early Shang Culture” by Yuan Guangkuo, A Companion to Chinese Archaeology, Edited by Anne P. Underhill, Blackwell Publishing, 2013 /thirdworld.nl ~|~]
“The clay molds, crucibles, and furnaces from these areas of Zhengzhou reveal that early Shang casting technology was quite developed. Bronze vessels were produced by piece-mold casting, which involved four main steps: shaping the clay model, production of the clay mold, casting, and finishing. In general more tin was used to produce the early Shang bronze vessels than those of the Erlitou period, but overall, the amount of tin still was relatively low. The early Shang bronze objects also contain varying amounts of lead (Zhu 2009 : 689–694). ~|~
Bronze Metallurgy in China
Bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, has a low melting point and a high density. When cast, bronze has the advantages of minimum air bubble production and maximum flow quality and can produce objects with razor-sharp edges or exquisite decoration, making it suitable for durable weapons, tools, and containers. Mining, smelting, and casting reached high levels of technology in ancient China. The proportions of copper, tin, and lead in bronze, the first invented alloy became perfected as time passed.
According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “How were bronze vessels made during the Shang and Zhou dynasties? Many years of archaeological efforts and a series of investigative trials and experiments in casting have uncovered some of the steps by which they were produced. The process can be generally divided into two primary phases: "smelting" and "casting". Smelting is the process of extracting a metal from its ore and then refining it to a higher purity. In the case of bronze, it is an alloy (mixture) of the metals copper, tin, and lead. Once this process is complete, the raw materials (metals) are transported to political centers and large settled communities with the requisite technology to undertake the process of casting. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei]
According to the Shanghai Museum:“ The high achievement of ancient bronze metallurgy depended on the efficient mining of ores and the development of sophisticated foundry technology. Bronze was the first alloy used in China. The appropriate proportions of copper, tin and lead was well controlled and gradually refined. Stone, clay and metal molds were widely used. Among these techniques, clay piece-mold was particularly highly developed. Combined casting techniques of compound metals indicated a perfect alloy-making process. Surface treatments such as inlaying and gilding were also highly refined. Lost-wax casting was an important advance in foundry technology. Magic bronze mirrors of the Western Han, with their extraordinary optical feature, could be described as a last afterglow of China's brilliant Bronze Age. [Source: Shanghai Museum shanghaimuseum.net /+]
Having endured the ravages of time and hazards of the elements, the surfaces of bronze vessels that you see today have undergone extended periods of chemical reactions that often generated a form of corrosion known as patina. Stable forms of corrosion are actually beneficial and can serve as a protective membrane for the object, but malignant forms (known as "bronze disease") require immediate professional conservation treatment.
Mining the Copper for Bronze in China
According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: ““Modern geological surveys show that the majority of copper deposits in China are concentrated in four main areas. Located in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, Mt. Chung-t'iao, the Sichuan-Yunnan area, and Kansu Province, these account for two-thirds of the total amount of copper produced. During the surveys of these areas, geologists also have discovered evidence of ancient mine shafts in almost all the quarries. An ancient mine and smelting operations was discovered at T'ung-lü ("Bronze Green") Mountain, located in the district of Ta-yeh ("Great Refining"), Hubei. Copper ingots have been excavated from the smelting site at T'ung-lü Mountain. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei]
“Elsholtzia is a kind of special plant that grows well in soil with a high copper content. Since copper is an important element for its growth, the places where this grass-like plant thrives are almost always located not far from a rich natural source of copper ore. Hence, it was given the name "copper grass".
“Two types of ore were used for smelting copper: copper oxide and copper sulfide. Copper oxide was used relatively early in the history of copper smelting, because it is found in veins nearer to the surface, is marked by brighter colors that make it more distinguishable, and is easier to process.
“Refining the ore to extract the raw metals for use in casting (in this case, bronze) is the prime objective of a mining area. The melting point of pure copper is 1083°C. In order to acquire raw materials of the highest purity, a mining area must have many high-temperature smelting furnaces. “Though the mines are ancient, the safety of their facilities do not pale in comparison to those of today. Despite the vast expanses of time between then and now, ancient mining technology is still being used today!
Bronze Casting in China
According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The bronze casting techniques developed in ancient China reached heights that rival or even surpass those of modern methods. First came the piece-mold process, followed by the lost-wax method. The creation of the mold was one of the most important stages in the casting process, because the craftsman could determine the size and shape of the final piece. In other words, it became the "model" for the end product. The evolution of the piece-mold method began with the casting of the whole piece followed later by separate casting and the combination of individual pieces. The lost-wax method allowed for the creation of exquisite openwork in the details of bronze pieces.
According to The Metropolitan Museum of Art: “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.” \^/
According to the Shanghai Museum:“ Stone, clay, and metal molds were used, with clay piece-molds being highly developed. Great expertise was required in the choice and combination of materials, the making of models and molds, the carving of inscriptions and decoration. The main casting techniques were one piece casting, casting in several pours, and stack-casting. Bimetallic casting showed the skilled use of different alloy formulas. Magnificent surface decoration for bronzes resulted from inlaying and gilding techniques. Lost-wax casting was an important advance in foundry technique. The ‘transparent’ mirror of the Western Han with its unique optical properties, might be described as a last afterglow of China’s extraordinary Bronze Age. [Source: Shanghai Museum]
Most Shang and Zhou bronzes were cast in clay molds. The mixed materials for mold-making were of fine properties. Even quite early bronzes show that the founders were able to achieve uniformly thin-walled castings. The world-renowned bronzes of Shang and Zhou results from the techniques of making complex molds by subdividing the model, forming independent sub-molds, assembling the sub-molds into a composite mold; printing mold elements from a unit-model and combining them into a mold; using a single model to reproduce duplicate molds, sweeping out the interior of a mold with a revolving template; securing cores with chapters and spacers; and executing inscriptions and decoration by carving or stamping. The main casting techniques were casting in one piece and casting in several pours (casting-on). Soldering was also commonly used. Stack-casting and metal molds casting were used for efficient production of large quantities of tools, horse harnesses and chariot fittings.
A light transmitting mirror is a special bronze mirror. Its surface can not only function as a mirror, reflecting people, but more importantly, when the sunlight or parallel light shines on the surface, the reflection and projection of the mirror will show the image of the characters and designs on the back of the mirror. Two key points should be noted in casting the light transmitting bronze mirror: one is the cooling solidification process during the casting. When the bronze mirror is cooling quickly, the concave-convex decorative design of the back of the mirror will produce the corresponding slight unevenness on the surface in the solidification and shrinkage processes. The second is the grinding and polishing process, in which the surface comes up with new elastic deformation, further increasing the mirror undulation. Only when two conditions are met, can the ‘light transmitting’ effect be realized.
Chinese Ritual Bronzes
Shang ritual bronze 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.
Bronze vessels and figures were generally made using the lost wax casting technique, which worked as follows: 1) A form was made of wax molded around a piece of clay. 2) The form was enclosed in a clay mold with pins used to stabilize the form. 3) The mold was fired in a kiln. The mold hardened into a ceramic and the wax burned and melted leaving behind a cavity in the shape of the original form. 4) Metal was poured into the cavity of the mold. A metal sculpture was created and removed by breaking the clay when it was sufficiently cool.
Decorations and Figures on Chinese Bronze
The elaborate forms and intricate decoration found on Chinese bronzes lifted them to unprecedented levels of artisty. On bronze and jade objects, the "t'ao-t'ieh" (or animal-mask), phoenix, and one-legged monster ("k'uei-lung wen") patterns are often found. Gradually, they were transformed into elegant designs with protruding horns and varying combinations of the dragon-phoenix and animal mask conceived to plead to the gods and ancestors.
Yu Kuo-ching wrote:“Bronze ritual vessels were often cast with extraordinary kinds of engraved decoration. Whether expressing the religious aspirations of the Shang people or reflecting aspects of the lives of the Zhou people in the earthly realm, they are able to capture for us the spirit of the times that produced them.” Major decorative designs found on ancient Chinese bronzes: 1) dragons in ancient China often had a long body like a snake and was regarded as a mysterious being and god water. 2) Phoenix-like birds often look more like chickens than a fiery sky bird and often had a beautiful crest, hooked bill, curved body and tail and was regarded as a god of the wind and envoy from heaven. 3) Animal masks feature highly stylized features such as a nose bridge as a central with horns, eyebrows, eras, nostrils, mouth and long teeth symmetrical arranged on both sides. Sometimes there are claws at the bottom. They are a reflection of nature worship. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw; Shanghai Museum]
Most Shang vessels were decorated with taotie, face-like symbols with “eyes” composed of swirling lines. These designs have been used by archeologists to determine the spread of Shang culture. At the bottom of one yu basin is an arrangement of flower stems encircled by dragon heads with holes from which steam escaped from the vessel. Three-legged bronze vessels from the 12th century B.C. contain images of bears, wolves and tigers. Soldiers from this period wore bronze chest plates engraved with attacking leopards with huge claws, birds with wolf ears and eagle beaks, hawks grabbing bear cubs, tigers leaping on antelopes, and dragons
Inscriptions on Chinese Bronze
Yu Kuo-ching wrote:“ It was customary to cast inscriptions in bronze ritual vessels to record some recognition of meritorious achievement, bestowal of imperial favor, appointment to office, settlement of a contract, proclamation of a new statute, taking of an oath, or other such occasion. A distinguishing characteristic of the bronze collection of the National Palace Museum is the number of vessels bearing lengthy inscriptions, such as the Maokung ting, the San p'an, the Sung hu, the Tsung-chou chung, and the Tzu-fan chime. Documents on bamboo strips or classics written on silk from the pre-Han period have been reduced to ashes by the ravages of time, and only the inscriptions on bronze vessels have come down to us as one kind of contemporaneous record of so ancient a period of history. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw \=/]
Some bronze have pictograms or characters marking the name and family of the owner. Sometimes they record some information about the vessels: for example, it was given as a reward from a king or it was made a king of a particular state for a lady. Clan seals and markings were also common. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The ritual items of each clan shed light on both the importance of rituals in the Shang and Zhou dynasties as well as the court position to which each clan was assigned. Examples of such include the bronze vessels of the Ya-ch'ou clan as well as the bronze "tsun" and seal of the Ya-ch'in clan in the late Shang; the Tso-ts'e-ta "fang-ting" and Ling "fang tsun" of the Niao-ping-ts'e clan in the early Western Zhou (ca. 1046-977 B.C.); and the Chou-chang "hu" and Chou-hu "yu" of a clan in the middle Western Zhou. The ritual items of these clans reveal the artisans' efforts at being able to honor clan ancestors, record achievements, and receive rewards. At the same time, they were paying respects and expressing filial piety toward ancestors as well as wishing descendants to preserve the family tradition., Ya-ch'ou square kuei, Ya-ch'ou square kuei, Ya-ch'ou square kuei, Late Shang Dynasty, ca. 13th to 11th century B.C. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw \=/]
Types of Bronze Vessels
Ritual bronzes served as ceremonial offerings to ancestors, as banquet utensils, and occasionally as formal gifts. Members of China’s nobility possessed sets of bronzes, the sizes and types of which conveyed the social status of their owners.According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “By the time of the early Shang, bronze wine vessels and food containers began to appear in sets. They matured further in the late Shang. For example, sets of food containers ("ting", "yen", "li", "kuei ", and "tou"), wine vessels ("ku", "chüeh", "chi", "chia", "lei", "p'ou", "tsun", and "you"), and water containers ("yü" and "p'an") were commonly seen. These bronze wares were the most representative ritual objects in the system of rites. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
Jue — for drinking or pouring wine into a cup
Jia — for pouring wine on the ground as an offering or sacrifice to ancestors
Gu — for drinking wine
Zhi — for drinking wine
Zub — large or medium size wine container
Hu — wine container
You — container for spicy wine made of millet
Fang Yi — wine container
Gong — usually an animal-shaped wine container
Lei — large or medium size wine container
Ling — large or medium size wine container that evolved from the lei
He — container for water mixed with wine
[Source: Shanghai Museum]
Ding — pot for cooking or serving meat
Li — pot containing meat or porridge
Yan — steamer
Gui — pot for cooked grain such millet or rice
Xu — pot for cooked grain such millet or rice
Fu — pot for cooked grain such millet or rice
Dui — pot for cooked grain such millet or rice
Dou — container for cooked rice or water
Yu — large container for cooked rice or water
Pu — food container
Pen — container for cooked rice or water
Jian — large container for water or ice
Pan — washing basin used with the Yi
Yi — used for pouring water for washing
Bronze ritual vessels in the National Palace Museum, Taipei collection include a 1) Hu wine vessel of Song Late Western Zhou Dynasty, c. 9th century to 771 B.C., height: 63 centimeters width: 21.2 x 16.9 centimeters; 2) Ding cauldron of Shi-shou Early Western Zhou Dynasty, c. 11th to 10th century B.C., height: 20.3 centimeters width: 17.5 centimeters; 3) Hu wine vessel of Yin-gou Mid Western Zhou Dynasty, c. 10th to 9th century B.C., height: 58.5 centimeters width: 19.9 x 14.7 centimeters; 4) Pan water vessel of San Late Western Zhou Dynasty, c. 9th century to 771 B.C., 2376, height: 20.6 centimeters width: 54.6 centimeters.
Ancient Chinese Bronze Weapons and Jewelry
Bronze weapons including the Ge (dagger ax), Ko (dagger), Mao (spear head), Yue (axe), Dao (knife) and Jian (sword). According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “ “Of all the concerns of a state, the production of weapons was absolutely indispensable. Prior to carrying out as battle instruments the spatial struggles with enemies, the bronze shields, daggers, axes, and the like partook as ritual objects in the pre-battle ceremonies to hold temporal conversations with ancestors for their blessing of victory. The skillfully made weapons of bronze and jade represented the exalted rank and elevated status of the owner. The inscriptions on these weapons are also records of historical rituals and previous battles. [Source:National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw \=/]
Rituals represent a conversation between the living and deceased over a certain period of time, while warfare is the battle of life and death between enemies at a particular place. Weapons (such as shields, daggers, axes, and battleaxes) were not only instruments used in warfare, but they also became ritual objects used in ceremonies held at the outbreak of a war in order to beseech the blessings of ancestors. Bronze weapons in the National Palace Museum, Taipei collection include a 1) Ge dagger with bird pattern Late Shang Dynasty,, c. 13th to 11th century B.C., 204, height: 32 centimeters; 2) a Yue battle ax with animal mask pattern and turquoise inlay Late Shang Dynasty, c. 13th to 11th century B.C., 107, height: 20 centimeters; 3) , Ko dagger with bird decor, from the Early Western Zhou Dynasty, ca. 11th to 10th century B.C.
Bronze jewelry was also greatly valued. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: ““Back in the Shang dynasty, craftsmen had already fully mastered the technique of attaching jade, minerals, or other metals to newly cast golden bronzes, creating a glittering effect. In the wake of developments in bronze-casting techniques starting in the late Western Zhou, new works of art with a variety of materials were created. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
“From the piece-mold method of the Shang to the lost-wax technique of the Easern Zhou, bronze craftsmanship grew increasingly sophisticated and mass production was made possible. For example, the techniques of inlaid copper and turquoise, gold and silver filigree, and gilding, combined with coiled-snake and coiled-dragon designs popular at the time, pushed the art of bronze decoration to new heights.
“Outstanding works of art were created by designated craftsmen and workshops. Certain weapons were even carved with the names of their manufacturers. Neatly done inscriptions not only reveal the beauty of writing from different regions, they also provide indirect evidence of the advent of iron tools for such carving needs. The Bronze Age thus gradually drew to a close., Hu vessel with hunting scene design, Hu vessel with hunting scene design, Hu vessel with hunting scene design, Early Warring States Period, ca. 5th to 3th century B.C.
Bronze Mirrors in Ancient China
Bronze mirrors existed earlier but became popular during the Warring States period (476 – 221 B.C.). During the Shang and Zhou Dynasty periods, the reflective mirror held great significance as oracle ritual items for the ruler. Bronze mirrors began to be mass-produced during the Han Dynasty with the proliferation of the TLV mirror. Bronze mirrors remained popular through the Song Dynasty ceasing to be produced after the Western mirrors were introduced during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “In ancient China, the mirror was a precious instrument for examining a person’s appearance. In addition to tidying dress and head ornaments, the ancients associated the bright shine of a burnished bronze mirror with the sun and moon, the mirror gradually becoming a religious instrument considered capable of avoiding and expelling inauspicious things. The reflective property of mirrors likewise turned it into a historical metaphor for looking into the past as a way to understand the present. The ancient Chinese cast mirrors out of bronze, burnishing the flat side to make it shiny while decorating the back with various patterns. With their craftsmanship and aesthetics changing over the ages, mirrors became an important medium expressing the artistic spirit of the period in which they were made and thereby highly treasured. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
“The glossy shine of burnished bronze mirrors led the ancient Chinese to view them as divine objects. According to legend, the first mirror was cast by the Yellow Emperor to join the spirit worlds of yin and yang. Said to never corrode, mirrors were believed to be conduits for the spirit world. According to a record in Xuanhe bogutu, ordered by the Song emperor Huizong, such imagery as immortals, the Four Spirit Animals, Five Marchmounts, Eight Trigrams, Twelve Branches, and dragons and phoenixes on ancient bronzes from the Han to Tang dynasties reflect a microcosm of the cosmos. Inscriptions on mirrors also found their way into literature and served as paradigms for the cultivation of moral integrity. Therefore, research on ancient mirrors served a didactic, edifying purpose as well.
Aileen Kawagoe wrote in Heritage of Japan: “Bronze mirrors with knobs appeared in the Warring State Period. In Han period they were found in large numbers with diversified decorative designs. The knob was often in the center for easy attachment to clothing. But the number of knobs could vary from 4, 5, 6…to 48, 55… The mirror with the most knobs — 100 knobs is now kept at the provincial Museum of Shanghai. The quantity of knobs or other signs on a mirror to set up a name is often used by experts to explain the significance of the knobs variously. (Source: Analysis on bronze mirror with knobs found from Ha Tinh and some problems about this type) [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com]
Some bronze mirrors were light transmitting mirrors, According to the Shanghai Museum: “A light transmitting mirror is a special bronze mirror. Its surface can not only function as a mirror, reflecting people, but more importantly, when the sunlight or parallel light shines on the surface, the reflection and projection of the mirror will show the image of the characters and designs on the back of the mirror. Two key points should be noted in casting the light transmitting bronze mirror: one is the cooling solidification process during the casting. When the bronze mirror is cooling quickly, the concave-convex decorative design of the back of the mirror will produce the corresponding slight unevenness on the surface in the solidification and shrinkage processes. The second is the grinding and polishing process, in which the surface comes up with new elastic deformation, further increasing the mirror undulation. Only when two conditions are met, can the ‘light transmitting’ effect be realized. [Source: Shanghai Museum]
Aileen Kawagoe wrote in Heritage of Japan: During the Han and Tang Dynasties, “Chinese mirrors were symbols of rulership or kingship, diplomatic gifts from China and status items exchanged with the sealing of political alliances. They were often traded, exchanged as diplomatic and political gifts, kept as grave goods in tombs and passed on as clan heirlooms. Different features and designs developed in different periods, with the various symbols and inscriptions on the back of the mirror indicative of the politics, economy, ideology, culture and social custom of the age. Bronze mirrors were typically round, polished brightly on one side, with designs on the back. Han and Tang mirrors were the most sophisticated. Later Han mirrors inherited this moral storytelling tradition with mirrors’ pictorial motifs bearing the narrative elements of the Story of Wu Zixu. (The Han people were especially fond of rhetoric, dialogue and storytelling and their mirrors reflect this.) [Source:Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website]
The TLV bronze mirror was a bronze mirror that was popular during the Han Dynasty in China. It was so called because called TLV mirrors because the engraved symbols resemble the letters T, L, and V. Produced from around the 2nd century B.C. until the 2nd century AD, the dragon was an important symbol of these early TLV mirrors. The "Xianren bulao" TLV Bronze Mirror at the National Palace Museum, Taipei was made during Xin to early Eastern Han period, A.D. 1st century and is 20.3 centimeters in diameter. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: ““This round mirror has a hemispherical knob on a quatrefoil base in the form of a persimmon calyx and within a square double-outline square. The interior of the square is ringed with an inscription of twelve characters for the Earthly Branches. The area outside is decorated with a TLV pattern and interspersed with eight nipples and the Four Spirit Animals (Green Dragon, White Tiger, Red Bird, and Black Tortoise) as well as other flying birds and auspicious beasts in a complex array. An outer ring features an inscription describing the realm of the immortals, and the mirror rim is ringed by a sawtooth pattern with an outer circle of cloud patterns. The appearance of the TLV pattern, Four Spirit Animals, characters for the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches, and inscriptions dealing with the immortals reflects apocryphal thought popular in the late Western Han to Xin period. The Qianlong emperor in the Qing dynasty ranked this mirror in the "first top grade." [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
According to Schuyler Camman the designs on TLV mirrors were symbols of the heavens or the cosmological world the Chinese believed in. 1) The V shapes framed the inner square, and that the central square is thought to represent China as the ‘Middle Kingdom, as well as the ancient Chinese idea that heaven was round and earth was square. This illustrated the Chinese idea of the five directions — North, South, West, East and Center. ’ The area in between the central square and the circle represented the ‘Four Seas.’ During the Han Dynasty the ‘Four Seas’ represented territories outside China. The nine nipples in the central square likely represented the ‘nine regions of the earth as discussed by Cammann as having come from the Shiji. 2) The Ts reflected the ‘Four Gates of the Middle Kingdom’ idea present in Chinese literature, or possibly the four inner gates of the Han place of sacrifice, or the gates of the imperial tombs built during the Han period. 3) The Ls are thought to have symbolized the marshes and swamps beyond the ‘Four Seas,’ at the ends of the earth. The Ls seem to bend possibly to achieve a rotating effect which symbolized the four seasons, or the cardinal directions. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website]
Origin of Bronze Mirrors
“In 658 B.C. an entry in the Tso Chuan, China’s oldest narrative history, described a certain individual with the words “Heaven has robbed him of his mirror” that is, made him blind to his own faults. So the purpose of mirrors had a spiritual and moral purpose — to reflect not only one’s face, but one’s heart and soul. Mongolia was the heartland of the ancient Xiongnu culture, which had extensive intereaction with the Han Dynasty. Excavate almost any Xiongnu elite grave in Mongolia and you find inevitably Chinese bronze mirrors among other Chinese items. Han mirrors have also been found at Noin Ula (probably gifts from Chinese emperors and evidence of Xiongnu princes’ trade relations with China), Il Mova Pad, Wu-huan cemetery in Lo-Shan-hsiang in Manchuria, in the Minusinks area, 5 mirrors are TLV mirrors and one i-t’i tzu (quaint script type), in the Kenkol cemetery of the Talas Valley, one chang i tzu sun and one “hundred nipples” mirror were found. Mirrors from Fergana were chang i tzu sun mirrors. The westernmost Han mirror is found in the Kuban region in the Caucasus.
The prototype for bronze mirrors was thought to have been the bronze clothes buttons of Karasuk cultural nomads (c. 1500-1400 B.C.) in the south of Minusinsk steppes from the late 3rd — early 2nd millenniums B.C.. However, some of the earliest examples of Chinese bronze mirrors belonged to the Neolithic Qijia culture from around 2000 B.C.. and decorated bronze discs thought to be mirrors were found in northwest China between 2000 and 1750 B.C. (all of which pre-date the Karasuk culture).
“According to Britannica, “In the second half of the 2nd millennium B.C. in the region of Minusinsk, a Sinid group broke in that brought with it a bronze inventory of Ordos (northern China) type. Cemeteries of single graves covering the dead in extended position in stone cists, equipped with round-bottomed pots, appeared. New people mixed with the local Andronovo population. Through this immigration the so-called Karasuk culture originated and spread its influences farther to western Siberia and Russian Turkistan. Trade relations extended to central Russia. Exchange with the centres of the Far Eastern metallurgy introduced a new character of material culture (daggers and knives terminating in animal sculptures, series of ornaments) and stimulated the flourishing of metal industry in a wide area. The regions west of Minusinsk — Altai, Kazakhstan, and Kirghizia — show variations of Karasuk culture with strong local elements with which the persistence of the ancient racial type corresponds. Chronology of this period is based on comparisons with northern Chinese bronzes. … Vital trade contact is traced from northern China and the Baikal region to the Black Sea and the Urals, influencing the uniformity of the culture.”
“Arzhan 2 kurgan barrows had two finds of bronze mirrors dated to late 7th century B.C. and the Altai mountain’s Ice Maiden and Kazakhstan’s Issyk warrior priestess’ mirrors are dated at 500 and 400 B.C. respectively. The Pazyryk rattle-mirrors and those found in the Altai region are thought by some scholars to have originated in India (because of the elephant motif) although no early mirrors have yet been found in India or Pakistan. Early dates come from the mirrors carried by priestesses in Egypt and Crete (silver and bronze, and copper) mirrors dated to 1800 and 1600 B.C.. but these are still later than the Chinese mirror.
Bronze Mirrors of the Tang and Song Dynasties
Bronze mirrors from the Tang Dynasty ( A.D. 618-907) were quite sophisticated. The "Yuxia" Bronze Mirror Decorated with Ginkgo Leaves was made in the Sui to early Tang period, 7th century and is 15.2 centimeters in diameter. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The back of this round mirror is decorated with eight evenly arranged gingko patterns radiating from the center, where they intertwine to form a knob. The edges of the gingko leaves have fine wave patterns, as if moving at the water’s edge in a gentle breeze to create this extremely elegant effect. The inner and outer areas are divided by a delicate line pattern. The outer area features poetry on mirrors that echoes the pleasing decoration on the mirror, yielding a refreshing quality to the overall appearance. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
“Bronze Mirror with Lions and Grapevines” was made in the High Tang period, 8th century and is 15.6 centimeters, in diameter “The back of this round mirror with a crouching lion as its knob has inner and outer areas divided by a linear pattern in high relief. The inner area features seven lions in various poses. By the standing male is a lioness-and-cub scene, showing attention to detail in portraying a pride of lions. The outer band has a circle of grapevines rendered quite realistically, and the outer area is decorated with birds and auspicious beasts frolicking amongst grapevines. The mirror rim also has a circle of scrolling vegetation. The overall decoration of the mirror expresses the designer’s fondness for extremely vivid and realistic descriptions from nature.
In the Yin period (A.D. 907 to 960), the button backs cast with incised decorative designs became valuable products used as mirrors for daily use and for dressing in ancient times. Experts tell us that, with the Mirror of Yin as an example, the designs showed that the bronze object was used as a art pictorial mirror or an illustrative device to tell a parable or moral story.
In the Northern Song period (960-1127), the court and scholars alike placed great value on antiquities, driving the trend towards compiling and editing catalogues of ancient artifacts. Emperor Huizong (r. 1101-1126) had the court collection of antiquities organized to include 112 Han and Tang dynasty bronze mirrors in his Xuanhe bogutu (Xuanhe Illustrated Antiquities) of 1123, leading the way for mirrors to become part of catalogues on ancient objects.
Bronze Mirror in the Form of an Ancient Cauldron with Paired Dragons was made in the Southern Song period, 1127-1279 . It has a height of 16.25 centimeters and a width of 12.1 centimeters. This mirror is in the form of a tripod with two handles. The mirror surface is flat with two raised loops for a knob on the back originally used to fasten it to a stand. The neck of the tripod is decorated with scrolling vegetation in relief, while the body features two dragons in high relief and a flaming pearl in between. As with double dragon patterns in the Song dynasty, one of the beasts has its mouth open and the other closed. Below the dragons is a pattern of sea waves.
Decline of Bronze in China
According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “After the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-220 C.E.), there was a sharp decline in bronze production, with the exception of lanterns and incense burners, which still remained popular. The bronze industry of the post-Han period was primarily occupied by the manufacture of mirrors. In technical terms, the composition of the alloy changed to include a greater percentage of tin, resulting in a brighter color and more lustrous finish on the polished mirror surface. The decorative motifs on mirror backs came from traditional designs of linear forms or sculpted low-relief images, and came to include multi-layered high-relief designs. The flowers, birds, and landscape forms that began to appear on mirrors exhibited a style somewhat similar to that of contemporary paintings. New forms, like auspicious creatures and grapes, are clearly cultural expressions of foreign influence in this medium at the time. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
“In the sixteenth century, during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties, increasing contact between the East and West led to the import of European glass mirrors into China, offering a brand-new experience for the elite. In the Qing dynasty, the Kangxi emperor (r. 1662-1722) even had a glass factory established, and the local production of glass mirrors commenced at that time. Many new materials and techniques were developed to adorn the frames of these glass mirrors, such as painted enamel, carved jade and ivory, and bronze and woodworking. With the spread of glass mirrors in the middle to late Qing dynasty, bronze mirrors were gradually thus displaced as the mainstream.
Bronze Arts from Minorities and the Chinese Border Areas
According to the Shanghai Museum:“ During the Eastern Zhou, Qin, and Han dynasties, bronze casting flourished among the minority peoples inhabiting the border areas of China. The Yue minorities in the south, the Ba-Shu in the west, the Yi in the southwest, and the Xiongnu in the north all developed their own bronze-casting industries. Their bronzes were deeply influenced by the Shang and Zhou traditions of the Central Plains, but they also showed unique features and styles. Exchanges between the border areas and the Central Plains inspired lively and inventive works of bronze art. Many bronzes have been found in the border areas of China. Characterized by distinctive shapes and local styles these bronzes exhibit the artistic achievements of minority peoples living in the border areas, and they also supply valuable evidence of cultural exchanges among the different nationalities of ancient China. [Source: Shanghai Museum]
According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Various kinds of interchange between the Chinese and other tribes around the Central Plains heartland go back to the Shang dynasty. “This multicultural flair lasted throughout the late Shang, Western Zhou, and the Spring and Autumn and Warring States (ca. 475~221 B.C.) period. As cultures varied from tribe to tribe, each constructed its own "dialect" in bronze with individual styles and characteristics. These societies were scattered throughout the North (Hopeh, Inner Mongolia, Ning-hsia, Tung-pei), Pa-shu (Sichuan), Tien (Yünnan), Hunan, and Guangdong and Guangxi. Some of these bronzes were influenced by the styles of the Central Plains via exchange, while others remained purely on their own, reflecting individual regional styles. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
“In the study of ancient societies, the cultural legacy of bronzes certainly plays an important role., Jian (water vessel) of Fu Chai, King of Wu State is a large water vessel. Based on evidence from historical records and archaeological findings, Jian had several functions: as a water vessel; a container for ice to keep food cold; and as a mirror before bronze mirrors became popular. People also used it for bathing. Jian appeared in mid-Spring and Autumn period and became popular in later of this period and during the subsequent Warring States period. The Western Han still saw its cast. This piece of work has two horned dragons with coiled tails climbing up on the front and back of the vessel with the front claws and noses on the rim, looking very vivid and lively. The neck and belly of the vessel are decorated with interlaced dragon designs. The kind of tangled and spiral dragon design was a fashion in the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods. Inside the vessel, there are two lines inscribed with thirteen characters recording that Fu Chai, King of Wu selected the best bronze and had this Jian made for his own use.
Cowrie Container with Eight Yaks is a special bronze ware of the Dian people of Yunnan area. It got its name because it contained money cowrie when unearthed, with eight yaks of different gestures on the cover. The vessel is shaped like a wasp-waisted cylinder with a big yak and seven small yaks cast on the cover. The big yak in the centre stands on the drum-shaped stool, with its long and curved horns raising forward, looking powerful and vigorous. Seven small yaks stand along the edge of the cover with their heads and tails drooping. Two tiger-shaped ears are cast on the waist of the vessel with imposing gesture and covetous eyes. Unearthed at Lijiashan, Jiangchuan, Yunnan province, this relic is an iconic artefact reflecting the characteristics of Yunnan bronze culture. Yunnan bronze wares are often seen decorated with yak and tiger motifs.
Aileen Kawagoe wrote in Heritage of Japan: “Yunnan contains some of China’s richest deposits of copper, lead, and tin, and early phases of bronze metallurgy technology. By the mid-first millennium B.C., however, the technology of bronze production had reached a very high level of sophistication, and bronzes played a crucial military, ritual, and social role in Dian society. It appears that a close, symbiotic relationship existed between Dian metallurgical craftsmen and their elite patrons. Present evidence suggests that possession of bronzes, and the control over the means to produce them, invested the Dian elite with the ability to acquire and maintain power and control over their own people and many of their neighbors. Among the Dian society, political and ritual developments brought about the rapid specialization of the metallurgical craft. Under the patronage of the Dian elite, metalworkers developed complicated methods of casting and joinery techniques to produce vibrant and detailed depictions of scenes of warfare, ritual, and other aspects of Dian life. [Source:Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com]
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Shanghai Museum; National Palace Museum, Taipei; Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu ; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; 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;
Last updated November 2021