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Bronze Vessels, Art of Banquet and Sacrifice


As the alloy of copper, stannum and plumbum, Chinese bronze is invented 5000 years ago. Bronze prevailed immediately and led our ancestors into a new stage, which is the bronze era.


Generally speaking, bronze culture underwent three stages, the forming period, the thriving period, and the turning period. The forming period indicates the Longshan Culture 4500 - 4000 years ago in the Neolithic Age; while the thriving period from Xia, Shang to the Zhou Dynasties (11th century BC-221 BC), the artistic achievements of bronze vessels were extremely brilliant. Bronze was widely used as musical instruments in sacrificial temples, as weapons of war and other vessels in court life.



In China, the greatest part of discovered and preserved bronze items was not forged to ploughs or swords but cast to sacrificial vessels. From around 1650 BC, they were deposited as grave goods in the tombs of royalty and the nobility, and were evidently produced in very large numbers, with documented excavations finding over 200 pieces in a single royal tomb. They were produced for an individual to use in ritual offerings of food and drink to his ancestors in family temples or ceremonial halls over tombs, or rather ritual banquets in which both living and dead members of a family participated. On the death of the owner they would be placed in his tomb, so that he could continue to pay his respects in the afterlife.


Decorative patterns then were the most delicate and diverse. Popular patterns were the lines of beasts' faces which seemed mysterious and the lines depicting dragons and phoenix which were believed to be mighty and auspicious. Gradually people developed more complicated means of adorning their vessels. They inset jade, turquoise, iron or copper into the bronze vessels for which posterity admired their wisdom with awe.



Ding is a kind of vessel that could cook and be only possessed by kings and officials. 133 centimeters high and 875 kilograms heavy, Simuwu Fang Ding, the largest and heaviest bronze vessel in China, was believed to be forged by a king of the Shang Dynasty (16th-11th century BC) for worshiping his mother. It represented the highest artistic level of bronze.


In the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period, military affairs depended highly on weapons so that each state tried to make practical bronze ones. The king of the Yue State, Gou Jian, had made the famous Goujian Sword which was still sharp and without any rust when excavated. Another legendary artisan Gan Jiang was even said to be able to cast a bronze sword possessing a wizard's power.



Till the Han Dynasty (206BC - 220), the place of bronze vessels was substituted for those of jade, pottery, and iron. Afterwards, bronze was mostly used for mirrors in various shapes and patterns, although the inscriptions on them are of a very high value.

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