It is the heaviest and largest Ding (bronze cauldron) found so far in China. Because of its size, HouMuWu Ding 后母戊鼎 is consider the most important bronze ware excavated worthy to be called the ultimate National Treasure.
后母戊鼎 Houmuwu ding
The Houmuwu ding (Chinese: 后母戊鼎; pinyin: Hòumǔwù dǐng), formerly called Simuwu ding (Chinese: 司母戊鼎; pinyin: Sīmǔwù dǐng), is a rectangular bronze ding (sacrificial vessel, one of the common types of Chinese ritual bronzes) of the ancient Chinese Shang dynasty. It is the largest piece of bronzeware to survive from anywhere in the ancient world. It was unearthed in Wuguan Village, Anyang, Henan in 1939.
The ding is 133cm high, 110 cm long and 79 cm wide, weighing in at 832.84 kg. The ding was carved with thunder-like patterns and mythical creatures, such as Chinese dragons and taotie 饕餮, a motif commonly found on Chinese ritual bronze vessels. Experts estimate that up to 300 craftsmen used more than 1,000 kilograms of material to forge the vessel.
The Houmuwu ding was dedicated to Fu Jing 婦妌, a wife of King Wu Ding 武丁, a king during the Shang dynasty.
According to oracle inscriptions, Fu Jing enjoyed high social status among the king’s 60 or so wives, and one of her sons was designated the crown prince. Unlike Fu Hao 婦好, the wife who was such a skilled military warrior, Fu Jing was a farming specialist.
Her son Zu Geng 祖庚 ordered the making of the ding in memory of her.
An Interesting Journey
The Houmuwu ding, more commonly known as Simuwu ding, was unearthed in 1939 in Anyang. It is largest and heaviest bronze sacrificial vessel ever found in the world.
Some farmers accidentally dug out this ding in the 1930s (exact date unknown) and tried to sell it to an antique buyer for $20,000 yuan, a princely sum in those days. But he had one strange request – because it’s too big, he wanted it to be dismantled for transportation. Despite whatever tools the farmers used, it could not be dismantled. Only one of the handles came off because it was attached after the main body was casted from a single mould. So they decided to put it back into the ground, fearing some supernatural forces were protecting it.
And then came the Sino-Japanese war. The Japanese army heard about this ding and wanted to acquire it. The farmers dug it out and presented it to the Nationalist government, who promptly moved it to Nanjing.
Because of its sheer size, it could not be moved to Taiwan when the Nationalist government retreated after their defeat by the Communists. It was recovered in Nanjing and since 1959, it was kept at the Museum of Chinese History and then the National Museum of China.
A ding in any other name…
In 1949, historian and archeologist Guo Moruo 郭沫若 (1892-1978) read the inscriptions inside the vessel as simuwu 司母戊. He explained that si means sacrifice, and wu is the posthumous title of the tomb owner. That was how the ding came to be called “Simuwu.”
In 1962, Taiwan University oracle inscription expert Jin Xiang-heng translated the inscription as houmuwu, which means “the ding that is dedicated to the queen mother Wu.”
In 2011, when the National Museum of China was reopened after a restoration, the ding was officially introduced as the Houmuwu ding. The name, however, was not acknowledged by either Yinxu (where the ding was found) or the National Museum of Chinese Writing. Experts argue that the character hou didn’t refer to the “spouse of a king” until the Spring and Autumn Period (771-476 BC), and that the character in inscription is definitely si, not hou.
A bit confusing, all that, and the dispute has yet to be definitely resolved. In the meantime, the museum refers to it as Houmuwu ding.
National Museum of China 中国国家博物馆
The National Museum of China 中国国家博物馆 flanks the eastern side of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. The museum’s mission is to educate about the arts and history of China. It is directed by the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China. It is one of the largest museums in the world.
National Museum of China
No. 16 East Chang’an Street, Dongcheng District, Beijing 100006 (East side of Tian’anmen Square)
Closed on Mondays
Date Visited : Jun 2019
PS (2021/3/20) : Changed opening paragraph after fact checks.