I have blogged about bronze wares previously, but I explored them mainly in terms of their purpose and significance. As for the National Palace Museum bronzes, I will explained more in terms of the development of the Chinese scripts as the collection has many rare items with elaborate inscriptions.
Shang Dynasty : Inventor of the Chinese Writing
The Shang dynasty 商朝 (16th-11th century BC), also historically known as the Yin dynasty 殷代, was a Chinese dynasty that ruled in the middle and lower Yellow River valley in the second millennium BC, succeeding the Xia dynasty and followed by the Zhou dynasty.
The Shang dynasty is the earliest dynasty of traditional Chinese history firmly supported by archaeological evidence. Excavation at the Ruins of Yin (near modern-day Anyang), which has been identified as the last Shang capital, uncovered eleven major royal tombs and the foundations of palaces and ritual sites, containing weapons of war and remains from both animal and human sacrifices. Tens of thousands of bronze, jade, stone, bone, and ceramic artifacts have been found.
The Anyang site has yielded the earliest known body of Chinese writing, mostly divinations inscribed on oracle bones – turtle shells, ox scapulae, or other bones. Referred to as oracle bones script 甲骨文, more than 20,000 were discovered in the initial scientific excavations during the 1920s and 1930s, and over four times as many have been found since. The inscriptions provide critical insight into many topics from the politics, economy, and religious practices to the art and medicine of this early stage of Chinese civilisation.
商早期 青銅酒器 Wine Vessels and Accessories, early Shang dynasty, c. 16th-14th BCE
Left to right :
- 商早期 獸面紋爵
Jue wine vessel with animal mask pattern, Early Shang Dynasty, c. 16th to 14th century B.C.E.
- 商前期至商後期前段 獸面紋鈴觚
Belled ku with t’ao-t’ei decor, Er-li-kang Period or Early Anyang Period (16th-13th century B.C.)
- 商早期 獸面紋斝
Jia wine vessel with animal mask pattern, Early Shang Dynasty, c. 16th to 14th century B.C.E.
Pan water vessel with coiling dragon pattern, late Shang dynasty, c. 13th-12th century BCE
The surface of this basin is decorated with a coiled dragon, its head, an animal mask in the style of the late Shang period, protruding from the center. Around the rim of the basin are “k’uei” dragon, bird and fish motifs. Casting marks can be found on the reverse side, with traces of six join reinforcements located where the ring foot meets the underside of the vessel. On the ring foot are three square holes equally spaced that research has revealed to have been used during the casting-on process and to secure the pieces in place. As a result, holes were commonly seen on the ring feet of bronzes, and it was not until the late Shang that the problem of shift during casting was resolved. This is an important example of a Chinese Bronze Age water vessel. According to archaeological records very few large bronze water vessels such as “p’an” basins or “yu” bowls were unearthed from Shang dynasty tombs, especially not with such grand decorative work as found on this example. This suggests that the person this “p’an” was buried with had been an important member of the aristocracy.
商晚期 青銅酒器 Wine Vessels and Accessories, late Shang dynasty, c. 13th-11th BCE
Drinking as part of celebration has long been part of Chinese culture. And even after death, the drinking ritual continued in the afterlife.
Far left to right, ritualistic wine vessels uncovered from Shang period tombs.
- 商晚期 獸面紋斝
Jia wine vessel with animal mask pattern, late Shang dynasty, c. 13th century BCE
- 商晚期 乳丁紋勺
Ladle with knob pattern, Late Shang Dynasty, c. 13th to 11th century B.C.E.
- 商晚期 獸面紋觚
Gu wine beaker with animal mask design, late Shang dynasty, c. 13th-12th century BCE
- 商晚期 亞醜父丙爵
Jue wine vessel to Bing the father, late Shang dynasty, c. 12th-11th century BCE
商晚期 亞醜家族 Ya Chou Clan, late Shang dynasty, c. 12th-11th century BCE
亞醜家族 Ya Chou clan emblem
The clan emblem is a necessary information in the research of social and political sociology of Shang and Zhou dynasties. 亞醜家族 Ya Chou clan emblem can be found on the cover of this 卣 You (wine vessel).
The Ya Chou was a clan active in the late Shang dynasty in modern day Shandong province. Between 1965 and 1966, archaeologists found the cemetery of the Ya Chou clan in Sufutun, Qingzhou City, Shandong province.
One of the tombs in the Ya Chou clan cemetery is cross-shaped with four ramps, a format used for tombs of Shang kings. The National Palace Museum has three fangzun bearing Ya Chou clan signs All three Ya Chou fangzun in the National Palace Museum are dated to the late Anyang period (12th-11th century BC).
You wine vessel of Qi Fu with Ya Chou emblem, late Shang dynasty, c. 13th-12th century BCE
The edge of the lid is perpendicular to the top of the lid, covering the spigot on the body. The double rings on both sides of the body show that the device originally had a handle and was connected to the body through the double ring, but it has been lost. . The neck cover is decorated with kui patterns, and the belly is decorated with animal face patterns. These patterns are all embossed on the surface of the bulge, but there is no thunder pattern underlay. This animal face pattern without thunder pattern underlay was seen in the late Yinxu period, and the foot is decorated with two thin-line bas-relief string patterns. The middle of the lid and the center of the bottom of the device are inscribed with 4 characters “Ya Chou Qi Fu”.
Square zun wine vessel with Ya Chou emblem, late Shang period, c. 13th-12th century BCE
Cast “Ya-ch’ou” vessels have often been excavated from Su-pu-tun in I-tu, Shantung 山東益都蘇埠屯, so scholars believe that “Ya-ch’ou” represents the “Po-ku” clan mentioned in the ancient “Tso-ch’uan” text. Flourishing in the late Shang period, this clan was exterminated by King Ch’eng in the early Western Chou. About forty percent of the surviving cast vessels inscribed with “Ya-ch’ou” are rectangular vessels, sharing along with rectangular vessels excavated from the tomb of Fu Hao renown in the developing splendor of late Shang bronze vessel shapes.
The curving sides of this vessel are divided into four transitions. The mouth rim is wide and flaring, constricting down to form the neck area, which then flares out for a diagonal to create the shoulders. The outline extends down for the body, which then flares out again for the base. This makes for a shape with numerous transitions and flange angles.
商晚期至西周早期 亞醜簋 、 亞醜方簋
Round and Square Gui food container with Ya Chou emblem, late Shang to early Western Zhou period, c. 12th-10th century BCE
Left to right
- 商晚期至西周早期 亞醜簋
Gui food container with Ya Chou emblem, late Shang to early Western Zhou period, c. 12th-10th century BCE
Round abdomen and ring feet have double ears, ears have long slings, and ring feet have convex ring feet. The abdomen is decorated with animal face patterns, the feet are decorated with kui patterns and the double-headed kui patterns are overlapped, and the bulging table is decorated, but there is no thunder pattern backing. There are hook-shaped ridges in the middle of the stomach and feet, the ears are decorated with animal heads, the middle is decorated with bird feathers, and the Er is decorated with bird tails and bird claws. The inscription “Yachou” is at the bottom of the vessel.
- 商代晚期 亞醜方簋
Square gui food container with Ya Chou emblem, late Shang period, c. 12th-11th century BCE
This gui food container has a square body, wide mouth, compact neck, high flared ring foot, and two handles. The body is surrounded by flanges. The neck and the longer sides of the ring foot are decorated with kui phoenix patterns; the belly is adorned with animal mask patterns; and the shorter sides of the ring foot are decorated with bird patterns. The background is filled in with cloud and thunder patterns. Reinforcing bars can be found on the underside of the vessel. At the bottom of the inner surface of the vessel, the clan mark, “Ya Chou,” can be seen.
Western Zhou and the Bronze Script
For the early Western Zhou (11th-8th century BC) to early Warring States period (5th-3rd century BC), the bulk of writing which has been unearthed has been in the form of bronze inscriptions. As a result, it is common to refer to the variety of scripts of this period as “bronze script” 金文, even though there is no single such script across the fragmented nation that was made up of mainly farmers and labourers.
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.
Ding cauldron to Ji from his grandson, early Western Zhou period, 1049/45-957 BCE
This device is a deep abdomen, folded edge, erect ears, pillar-footed tripod. The abdomen slightly droops with the style of the early Western Zhou Dynasty. The neck is decorated with six groups of high-relief sculptures of a double-body animal face, with a ridge in the center of the animal face, and clouds and thunder patterns lining the ground. There are high-relief beast face patterns and three string patterns on the pillar feet. The wall is thick and the decoration is fine. There is a re-casting mark on the bottom of the ventral organ. There is an inscription on the inner wall of the vessel with 11 words: “It is the treasure of the ancestor of Sun Zha and his ancestor (reported) guest”「乃孫乍祖己宗寶黹量匸（報）賓」. The content of the inscription adopts the rhetoric of the merchant, and the writing style is vigorous and vigorous. This vessel was collected by the Qing Palace and was originally stored in the kitchen of the Chonghua Palace.
西周早期 作冊大方鼎 、夨令方尊
Two Square Ding cauldrons of Zuo Ce Da and Square zun wine vessel of Ze Ling, early Western Zhou period, 1049/45-957 BCE
Left to right
- 西周早期 作冊大方鼎
Square Ding cauldron of Zuo Ce Da, early Western Zhou period, 1049/45-957 BCE
The four corners of the abdomen of the organ are ribbed, the lips are folded outward, two ears are erected, and the feet are columnar. There are 41 words inscription in the well :
- 西周早期 夨令方尊
Square zun wine vessel of Ze Ling, early Western Zhou period, 1049/45-957 BCE
The square statue has an upper circle and a lower circle, and the shape is gorgeous, and the whole body is decorated with embossed animal and bird patterns, and carved ridges and ridges to form a magnificent shape. It was unearthed in Mapo, Luoyang, Henan in 1929. The inscription described how Emperor Zhou ordered Lord Zhou to organise a state worship and the Temple of Zhou, which was successfully completed by Lord Zhou and Secretary Ling 夨令.
Gui food container with twin-dragon pattern, early Western Zhou period, 1049/45-957 BCE
This beautiful Gui food container glistens under the spotlight with different refracted colours from the minerals in the bronze.
Chime bell of Zong-zhou, late Western Zhou period, 857-828 BCE
This flat oval yong bell has a closed tile shape, with a curved mouth. There are 18 mei bosses on either side of the bell. The crown is decorated with cloud patterns, the waist on both sides of the central strip is adorned with diagonal S-shaped twin kui dragon patterns, and the center of the soundbow is decorated with left-right symmetrical dragon patterns. On the central strip and soundbow, an inscription of 111 characters can be seen.
The political situation during the late Western Zhou was quite harsh, with the Xianyun tribes posing a threat to the northwest, and the southern states roiling with rebellion. Beset by internal pressures and external threats, the making of this work and the content of its inscriptions represent a valiant effort by the Zhou King to stem the tide and aspire to eternal peace and prosperity for the realm.
Hu wine vessel of Song, late Western Zhou dynasty, 827-782 B.C.E.
The neck is decorated with a band pattern, the abdomen is decorated with a dragon pattern, the ring foot and the lid button are decorated side-by-side with a vertical scale pattern, and the lid edge is decorated with an animal eye pattern. The two-eared beast head is nested into a ring by the second casting method. The whole body is huge, with patterns distributed in gorgeous and dynamic layers.
There are the same 152-character inscription on the lid and body of the pot, which records the ceremony of the King Zhou appointment of Song. The script is elegant and the writing is beautiful. The inscription is a complete record of the details of the ceremony. It first states the time and place of the ceremony and the steps guided by the officials, and then records the appointment of Song and the reward of the chariot and servants, which supplement our understanding of the historical facts of the late Western Zhou Dynasty.
Gui food container of Shi Song, late Western Zhou period, 857/53-771 BCE
The lid of this Gui food containter was lost. In the well of the Gui is an inscription of 60 characters.「唯三年五月丁巳，王在宗周，令史頌省蘇、囗麋友里君、百姓，帥堣盩于成周，休有成事。蘇賓璋、馬四匹、吉金，用作將鼎彝。頌其萬年無疆，日將天子日尹見令，子子孫孫永寶用。」
Eastern Zhou : Divide and Conquer
As the central government of the Zhou Emperor lost its power, strong feudal states started to emerge. This period was known in history as Eastern Zhou dynasty (8th-3rd century BC) and divided more precisely into two distinct periods of developments – the Spring and Autumn period (8th-5th century BC) which was prominent for the emergence of major schools of thoughts and philosophy called Contention of Hundred School of Thoughts 百家爭鳴, and the Warring States period (5th-3rd century BC), before the period was ended with the unification of China by Emperor Qin Shihuang.
Starting in the Spring and Autumn period, the writing in each region gradually evolved in different directions, such that the script styles in the Warring States of Chu, Qin and the eastern regions, for instance, were strikingly divergent. In addition, artistic scripts also emerged in the late Spring and Autumn to early Warring States, such as Bird Script (鳥書), also called Bird Seal Script (鳥篆 ), and Worm Script (蟲書). And it took Qin Dynasty to unify not only the country, but the scripts used across the country.
Square Yan steamer set with tongue-spitting kui dragon pattern, mid Spring and Autumn Period, c. 7th to 6th century B.C.E.
The Yan 甗 is a steamer in the ancient times. The typical one is composed of the upper part of the「甑」 “Zeng” combined with the lower part of the 「鬲」”Zang”. However, in the Shang and Western Zhou dynasties, it was dominated by the “single-body Yan” cast in one piece. During Eastern Zhou, there were more “compound yan” that were divided up and down, and this yan belongs to the latter style. The huge belly on the upper part is for holding food, the lower part is filled with water, and there is a grate with holes between the two. The fire burns between the feet, and the steam rises from the grate hole to steam the food. The vessel is square in shape, and there are ears on the left and right sides of the upper and lower members for separate extraction. The biggest feature of the ornamentation is that the four corners of the upper part of the abdomen have a high-relief tiger, and the central part is equipped with a three-dimensional dragon head holding a copper ring, and the beast heads on both sides of the ring are half-relief. On the front and back of the lower part, there is a three-dimensional round-carved tiger, looking back, and there are ten tigers on the whole, which is really rare. The upper and lower parts of the device are covered with flat-carved deformed dragon patterns, while the belly pattern is dominated by the tongue-out dragon pattern looking back diagonally; the upper and lower earrings are decorated with “heavy ring patterns”.
Chime-bell of Zi-fan, mid Spring and Autumn Period, c. 7th to 6th century B.C.E.
Percussion instruments. It is in the form of a yong bell. The upper part is a long mud-hearted handle. The handle is decorated with a heavy ring pattern near the bell body, and there is a ring for hanging a hook. The body of the bell is in the shape of two tiles, which is what Shen Kuo of Song Dynasty called the “he tile style” in “Mengxi Bi Tan”. The mouth of the bell is curved downwards, and there is a “tuning groove” on the inner wall of the bell. The central part of the clock face is inscribed with an inscription, and the other side is plain without lines. There are three rows of long breast spikes on each side of the Zhengbu, with a total of 36 on both sides. The seal department is decorated with S-shaped Kui pattern. The center of the drum is decorated with a pair of opposite deformation patterns.
Bronze seal, Warring States period
From the scripts, you can see the same word being represented in different characters due to the different states.
Ding cauldron with four oxen lid, Warring States period, 5th-3rd century BC
Wine Containers, Warring States, 5th-3rd century BC
From left to right :
- 戰國 獸首盉 （三條腿，原來是古代用來溫酒的）
He wine/water vessel with spout in the shape of animal head, Warring States Period, 475-221 B.C.E.
Simple and without lines. The stream is in the shape of a squatting beast, with the heads of three beasts, and the two ends of the beam are the heads of beasts. The former collection of the Palace of the Qing Dynasty, recorded in “Xi Qing Continued Jian-Jia Bian” volume 14, page 28, as “Zhou Chi Liang Zuo 2”.
- 春秋晚期 鳥獸蓋𨨛 (金和)（原來帶和的就是量酒的）
He wine vessel with a lid of bird and animal, late Spring and Autumn Period, c. 6th to 5th century B.C.E.
Oval, with a constricted mouth, the head of the beast with round ears, a round bottom, and a flat top cover. There are five birds and beasts standing on the cover. The two beasts with ring ears were popular in the late Spring and Autumn Period to the early Warring States period. They were found in the copper unearthed in Luoyang Xigong District.
- 春秋晚期 螭耳羽人足𨨛(金和)（一種量酒器）
He wine vessel with creature handle and winged man feet, late Spring and Autumn Period, c. 6th to 5th century B.C.E.
Oval shape, straight mouth, double ears, round belly, round bottom, quadruple-shaped feet, with a hollow dome top cover. There is no pattern on the outer wall of the whole vessel, and each of the four legs is an abstract human figure. The arms are lifted back to prop up the body. The cover button is decorated with geometric patterns interlocking with each other. Described in “Xi Qing Continued Jian-Yi Bian” Volume 17, page 3, as “Zhou Jia Erzhen”.
Zun wine vessel in the shape of animal with metal wire and turquoise inlay, mid-Warring States period, 375-276 BCE
The whole body is made of four-hoofed animals, with erect ears, round eyes, four-footed feet, and a drooping tail. The animal poses and textures are presented in a realistic style. As a drinking vessel in the Warring States Period, it was made of animal mouths, with an opening on the back and a loose-leaf cover. The surface of the device is dark brown with greenish green in the middle. The whole body is inlaid with silver wire and beveled moire, and is decorated with gorgeous turquoise and gold and silver inlays. On the face, the eyeballs are inlaid with round gold, and the nose, eyebrows, and forehead are embellished with turquoise. The neck is inlaid with gold for a week to indicate a collar. The back cover is inlaid with gold and silver in the shape of a dragon.
Bronze weapons were an integral part of Shang society. Shang infantry were armed with a variety of stone and bronze weaponry, including máo (矛) spears, yuè (鉞) pole-axes, gē (戈) pole-based dagger-axes, composite bows, and bronze or leather helmets.
Bronze Ware in NPM
The size and weight of most bronze wares meant that the retreating KMT army could not bring those precious pieces collected by the Qing palace over, the material also meant that it was not possible to be destroyed by the Red Revolutionaries. And Forbidden Palace (the other Palace Museum) has a wonderful exhibit of the big pieces.
While the bronze wares in NPM may not matched the collections in some of the mainland China’s museums, like the Shanghai Museum or Sichuan Museum, but what it lacked in quantity, it makes up with quality.
About the National Palace Museum
The National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院) was originally founded within the walls of the Beijing Forbidden City in 1925, the present-day National Palace Museum moved to Taipei’s Shilin District following the Republic of China government relocation in 1949 with an official opening for the public in 1965.
Over 600,000 of the most precious artefacts within the collection were moved to Taiwan to prevent their desecration during and after the Chinese Civil War.
Due to the enormous numbers of collection spreads over 4 floors and 2 exhibition halls, the museum’s exhibits continuously rotate, as only a small percentage of the museum’s collection can be displayed at a given time to prevent wear and tear, so there will always be a new series of collection being exhibited on each visit!
National Palace Museum
No.221, Sec. 2, Zhishan Rd., Shilin Dist., Taipei City 111001, Taiwan (R.O.C.)
Tel : 886-2-2881-2021
Date Visited : Oct 2018