You are here > Home > Quick Navigation > Arts & Crafts

Chinese Bronze

Technical Features

In every culture, bronze was the first alloyed metal to be used for every kind of article necessary for daily life like ploughshares, yokes, kettles, knifes, bracelets, earrings, chariot axles and so on. The melting point of unalloyed copper is a bit lower than that of bronze but it is not able to sustain hard requirements. Only alloying it with at least 5 percent of tin, the metal has the needed durability. In China the oldest bronze findings are 3200 years old.


In the west of the Eurasian continent, bronze items were in most cases used for agriculture and warfare. In China, the greatest part of discovered and preserved bronze items was not forged to ploughs or swords but cast to sacrificial vessels. Even a great part of weapons had a sacrificial meaning like daggers and axes that symbolized the heavenly power of the ruler. The strong religious sense of bronze objects brought up a great number of vessel types and shapes which became so typically that they should be copied as archaic style receptacles with other materials like wood, jade, ivory or even gold until the 20th century. The first researches about Shang 商 and Zhou 周 vessels were made in Song times 宋 when every type got a scientific name. Until then, some types did not even have a fixed name or were alloted to different categories, like ding 鼎 and li 鬲. The different types were used for three purposes: as vessels containing millet wine, vessels containing food or vessels containing water. Some vessels with their long feet made it possible to cook the food inside, making a fire of charcoal under the vessel. Some types were standing in a charcoal basin, especially wine containers. The ritual books of old China minutely describe who was allowed to use what kinds of sacrificial vessels and how much. The king of Zhou was favoured to use 9 dings and 8 gui 簋 vessels, a duke (zhuhou 諸侯: gong 公) was allowed to use 7 dings and 6 guis, a baron (daifu 大夫) could use 5 dings and 3 guis, a nobleman (shi 士) was allowed to use 3 dings and 2 guis. We can see that the vessel types were composed to sets including the most important types for offering in a sacrifice, often using the vessel types of ding, gui, dou 豆, hu 壺, pan 盤 and yi 匜 or he 盉.

The cultural significance of the bronze vessels is also evident through the abundance of Chinese characters used for these types. The character dou 豆 , in later Chinese meaning "bean" or "pea" originally meant a sometimes covered round one-footed vessel type. The character feng 豊 today is only used phonetically, but it depicts a vessel, that is filled with precious jade stones, later reshaped to the character feng 豐, today meaning "rich, abundant".

Decoration and Inscriptions

Already the earliest types show the typical Taotie pattern 饕餮 that is said to depict a voracious monster or dragon. The newer types of Taotie pattern make it more understandable as a forerunner of the more slim and friendly dragons (panchi 蟠螭) of chinese pictorial art. Other typical characteristics of the bronze vessels are the two button-like attachments on the rim of the vessels (zhu 柱), the nipple-nail pattern (ruding 乳錠) and the three legs.

The first inscriptions of the bronze vessels are clan insignia (zuhui 族徽) or simply names of persons. From the Western Zhou time on, bronze vessels bear inscriptions of enfeoffment, memorials or instructions. See a translated example of the Mao Gong Ding 毛公鼎 kettle.

The dates of the vessel types below are always assigning the time of the appearance of this vessel type. Some objects, especially in Zhou times and from the southern region in the Yangtse valley, are sometimes difficult to assign to a certain type.

Page 1 of 1    1 

Bronze Drums
Inspired by the shape of drum or bronze basin, bronze drums are percussion instrument of the ethnic groups in the southwest of China. Applied to sacrifice rites, the bronze drums were usually used to play music or accompany with dance.
Historical Periods of Erlitou
Erlitou culture (first half second millennium B.C.) was the first to introduce industrial casting of bronze vessels, a craft that was not evidently imported from the west. We have not much traces left of the palaces and the burial sites of the ruling class of Erlitou.
History of Chinese Brone
Archeology first began during the 1920s when Western people like J.G. Andersson discovered remains of the prehistorical past.
Bronze Galloping Horse
Among China's various craft masterpieces, Bronze Galloping Horse is unique with its splendid designs and is a classical work of Chinese ancient aesthetics.
Bronze Mirrors
The Bronze Mirrors were for daily use in ancient times of China. Before the popularity of the bronze mirrors, people reflected their faces by filling a basin with water.
Patterns of Chinese Brone
The Taotie 饕餮 pattern came up already in the Erlitou culture when jade objects like daggers, axes, disks and scepters were decorated with fabulous animals with fierce teeth and claws, sharp horns, tails and legs.
Historical Periods of Shang Dynasty
The Shang Dynasty (also called Yin 殷 after the last capital) is the second of the Three Holy Dynasties (San Dai 三代) of Chinese historiography (Xia 夏, Shang 商, and Zhou 周).
Historical Periods of Spring and Autumn

Square Bronze Kettle with a Lotus and Crane Motif
The finest bronze ware of China -- A Square Bronze Kettle with a Lotus and Crane Motif -- was unearthed in Lijialou Village, Xinzheng County of Henan Province in 1923.
Major Type of Broze
Ding - one of the standard vessels for food sacrifying. Although one can often read the ding is three legged, there are many examples of four legged vessels, especially in old times.
Historical Periods of Warring
A very intensified warfare, not in number of battles, but in length and professionalism of the particular campaigns gave this period its name.

Page 1 of 1    1 

Quick Navigation

New Article