Travelogues

National Museum of China – HouMuWu Ding 后母戊鼎

Considered one of the three most important 鼎 ding in Chinese archaeology, Houmuwu ding 后母戊鼎 can be called the Big Brother of the three without any dispute. It is by far the largest and heaviest of the three. The other two are the Da Ke ding 大克鼎 in Shanghai Museum and the Mao Gong ding 毛公鼎 in National Palace Museum in Taiwan.

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.

亦称:司母戊大方鼎。此鼎型制雄伟,是中国目前已发现的最大、最重的古代青铜器,有“青铜之冠”之称。现藏于:中国历史博物馆。

The Inscriptions

L2M-CN-1906-NMCHN-HOUMUWU-5
虎食人纹

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, 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, a wife of King Wu Ding.

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, the wife who was such a skilled military warrior, Fu Jing was a farming specialist.

Her son Zu Geng ordered the making of the ding in memory of her.

商后期(约公元前十四世纪–公元前十一世纪)。高133厘米、口长110厘米、口宽79厘米、重832.84千克。司母戊鼎立耳、方腹、四足中空,除鼎身四面中央是无纹饰的长方形素面外,其余各处皆有饰纹。在细密的云雷纹之上,各部分主纹饰各具形态。鼎身四面在方形素面周围以饕餮作为主要纹饰,四面交接处,则饰以扉棱,扉棱之上为牛首,下为饕餮。鼎耳外廓有两只猛虎,虎口相对,中含人头。耳侧以鱼纹为饰。四只鼎足的纹饰也匠心独具,在三道弦纹之上各施以兽面。鼎腹内壁铸有铭文”司母戊”。据考证,司母戊鼎应是商王室重器。其造型、纹饰、工艺均达到极高水平,是商代青铜文化顶峰时期的代表作。 商代后期王室青铜祭器,一说为商王文丁为其母而作;另一说为商王且庚、且甲为其母而作。

An Interesting Journey

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后母戊鼎 Houmuwu ding (view from back)

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.

1939年河南省安阳市武官村出土。

A ding in any other name…

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司母戊 or 后母戊?

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 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 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 matter has yet to be definitely resolved.

Date Visited : Jun 2019

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