- 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. This kind is called fangding
方鼎, "square ding".
Another kind of ding is a li-ding, a
vessel between li and ding,
a fourth type is the flat foot ding (pianzu
ding 扁足鼎), only used during the Shang time.
Human faces are only very seldom seen on bronze vessels.
This vessel has the inscription "大禾
Da He", probably the name of the owner.
Height: 40 cm. The earliest ding vessels arise
during the Erligang culture, deriving from stone age
pottery. The character is a picture of the vessel.
||Ding - here a round belly three legged
example from early Zhou times (height 120 cm). This is
the standard shape of ding, which is still seen
today in many temples as a container for incense burning.
To this type belong very famous bronze kettles like the Mao Gong Ding
毛公鼎 and the Da Yu Ding
大盂鼎. The long inscriptions
inside these vessels are often reports of an enfeoffment.
||Ding - richly ornamented with inlaid gold
and silver from late Warring States times (height: 11 cm).
Refining the culture, the Zhou dynasty became more keen
to small and fine handicraft instead of the former huge
shapes. The ornaments of this example remind of the much
later cloisonné art. Something new is the beak
that makes the vessel look like a tea pot.
||Ding - this specimen with the added heating
oven from Western Zhou times is very precious. It has not
only four legs instead of three but it shows the figure
of a crippled slave who guards the door. It is therefore
a witness of the "slave-holder society" at that
- a round-bellied food container with three hollow legs
from early Shang times to late Warring States (22 cm tall).
Typical for this vessel type is the seamless, smooth
transition from the legs into the body that makes the li
optically more slim than the ding type. There
are mixed forms called li-ding or ding-li,
written with special characters that have died out since
long. From the Spring and Autumn period on, the li
type vessels become flatter than the earlier ones. The
character is a picture of the vessel and is generally
used as character for "offering vessel".
- combination of li and a pot (zeng 甑) from early Shang to Spring and
Autumn period (height 35 cm). The yan was a kind
of metal steamer. The food was put in the zeng,
the water in the li was heated by a fire between
the three legs. The water vapor rose through holes or a
grid in the bottom of the upper pot. There exist objects
with one long stove-like li and three pots upon.
From Western Zhou on, we also find square yan
vessels. The character indicates that the vessel had a
- round, wide surface vessel with handles from early
Shang to Spring and Autumn period. There exist many types
of gui vessels, like the ring-foot type (quanzu gui
圈足簋), a type with four handles (sier gui 四耳簋),
a type with a square base (example to the left; fangzuo
gui 方座簋), and types with three legs. The
character indicates that this vessel had a part of bamboo.
||Xu 盨 - a long food container from late
Western Zhou to Warring States (20 cm tall), deriving
from a covered type of gui. On the inner side of
this piece, a text about the southern conquest is
- a food container from early Zhou to Warring States
deriving from a square gui type with a large,
slightly flattened corpus. The left example is one of the
few still existing pieces (height 36 cm). The character
indicates that in old times this vessel had a bamboo
part, but especially for this vessel type exist many
||Dui 敦 (a character normally pronounced dun)
- a globe-like food container from late Spring and Autumn
times to Qin dynasty (height 25 cm). It is said to be a
combination of ding and gui. The two
parts are entirely symmetrical.
- a food container late Shang times to Warring States
period (height 20 cm). The later examples (the one on the
left dates from Warring States times) of the dou
have a cover that is almost symmetrical to the lower
part, and the is much shorter handle than in old times.
From Spring and Autumn time on we also find square dou
types. The character is a picture of the vessel.
||Fu 鋪 - a kind of dou with a
short, perforated handle and a flat bowl, from Western
Zhou to Spring and Autumn period.
- a bowl-shaped vessel with handles from late Shang to
Spring and Autumn period (24 cm tall). It was intended to
contain food or water.
||Zu 俎 - this kind of table
was in use from Shang to Western Zhou dynasties. It had
the main purpose to offer meat during a sacrifice. Some
types have two large legs, some four legs, and the plate
is concavely bended.
und Shao 勺
- a flat spoon and a ladle from Shang times to Warring
States period. Many bi objects are very short-handled
and have a sharp tip at the front. Another kind of spoon
is the dou 枓.
|Vessels containing millet wine
- one of the oldest wine mugs, the earliest found dates
from the Erlitou culture (right picture). The jue's typical
features are the long, canal-like beak (liu 流)
and the shorter counterpart on the other side (wei
尾). On both sides, small handles (pan 鋬) are fitted. From
the Shang dynasty on, jue beaks are crowned by
one or two zhu 柱 buttons.
This vessel type has been very popular and was copied
oftenly. It has been in use until the upcoming of bowls
and cups during Song dynasty.
- (a character normally pronounced jiao) a wine
mug very similar to the jue from Erlitou to
Western Zhou times, but with a cover. The character
originally means a kind of volume measure.
- tall, slim wine mug with wide opening and rare
ornaments from early Shang to Western Zhou. This
simplicity of the gu has been handed down for
centuries. There are also quadrangular pieces, called fanggu
方觚. The character originally
means a kind of volume measure.
- a rare type of covered wine vessel from late Shang to
Spring and Autumn period. There are flat and round types.
The character originally means a kind of volume measure.
- a kind of tall pot with cover, but without beak and
carrying handle from late Shang to Warring States (50 cm
tall). In most cases this type is not much decorated. On
the left, two pieces from the Western Zhou resp. the
Warring States period. The character for hu is a
picture of the vessel.
||Hu - a beautiful specimen upon a stand
called jin 禁 from early Warring States Period, found in the
tomb of Marquis Zeng 曾侯.
Hu - typically for the Warring States period
pots are the depictings of the aristocracy's daily life
activities like hunting and war scenes. There are many
different types of hu vessels, called with
different names like yinhu 飲壺 "drinking
pot" or jihu 汲壺 "libation pot".
The hu types are round, oval, square, long
necked, drum bellied, or gourd shaped. To the right is a rubbing from a detail of the vessel.
- a water mug from the Warring States period (20 cm tall). Today, the word bei means "bottle".
The eight rings that can be seen at many bronze vessels
are in most cases only for decoration.
- three legged wine pot from the early Shang. The jia
has the typical two big button-like attachments that in
some cases have animal shape. They are also attached to jue
mugs, but smaller. The character is a picture of the
||Jia - usually with a round shape, there are
sometimes quadrangular jia pieces (fangjia 方斝). This type was
copied later as an archaically shaped vessel.
- a multi shaped wine vessel with wide opening and flat
bottom. After coming up in early Shang times this vessel
developed forms with a wide belly. The zun was a
standard type vessel and was copied until Qing times. The
character is a picture of the vessel and is taken in
verbal sense with the meaning of "to rever, to
venerate, to honor".
||Zun - this type of zun from early
Shang (30 cm tall) has much room for ornaments with its
wide corpus. Sometimes there are even quadrangular pieces.
||Zun - in late Shang times, the zun
became a popular test object for bronze casters and
artists. This piece with two sheep-shaped heads has still
the large surface of the old types, but the legs are
something new. Attention was drawn away from the
ornaments to the whole shape of the vessel. The typical
shapes of animals are elephants, rhinos, oxen, sheep,
tigers, qilin unicorns, pigs, horses, and birds
||Zun - the nameless casters of Zhou times
made much experiments with old vessel types. From now on,
the zun had a typically small opening with a
cover. This artful elephant is still decorated with the
old taotie 饕餮 pattern.
||Zun - a vessel with the shape of a
sacrificial animal. Seeing this wonderful ox from the
Spring and Autumn period, one thinks of the victim ox
that King Hui of Liang felt sorry for in the book of Mengzi.
||Zun - with simple beauty and lifelike, this
rhinoceros from the Warring States period must have been
in original in front of the artists. The climate 2500
years ago was much warmer than today, so that elephants
and rhinos could make life at least south of the Yangtze.
||Zun - a perfection of
Chinese bronze casting is this very richly ornamented zun,
standing upon a dish. The dish was filled with hot water
to heat the wine in the jar. This precious piece was a
tomb offering of tomb B of Marquis Zeng 曾侯乙墓 in Suixian/Hubei (early Warring
States). The filigree ornaments in dragon shape (panchi 蟠螭)
was first shaped with wax, then coated with soft clay.
Heating it, the melting wax came out, and the bronze
could be casted in the hollow ductus. This so-called lost
wax technic was also used in the Western part of the
Eurasian continent, but to cast such filigee shapes can
not be copied today.
- a tall, slim but sometimes even fat wine jar with
carrying handle and cover from early Shang to Western
Zhou (height 50 cm). There exist tall or small, round,
flat and bucket shaped types. Later types have even
shapes of animals, especially birds and monsters. The
character is a picture of the vessel.
- a richly ornamented rectangular wine vessel from late
Shang to Western Zhou. The whole shape looks like a house
or a sarcophagus (height 50 cm). The name yi or fangyi
方彝 is not original but was
attributed to this vessel type by Song scholars.
- an always animal shaped vessel type from late Shang,
out of the Middle Yangtze area. The cover of this wine
mug is stretched over the whole length of the vessel. If
the rim line is curved the type is called aogong
凹觥, "concave gong".
The character originally means a kind of volume measure.
||Gong - here a piece from early Zhou times (20
cm tall). The gong has been one kind of large
volume vessel that was not exclusively used for
sacrificial purposes. It is said that a person who did
offend against the etiquette had to drink to the health
of his host until he was drunk.
||Lei 罍 -
normally the lei was quadrangular (called fanglei
方罍), tall and vase-like, but
sometimes also round. It served as a wine storing vessel.
||Lei - a quadrangular, tall vessel with rich
ornaments and a cover from late Shang times. This
precious piece is inlaid with turquois stones that are
arranged in the shape of a Taotie monster.
- a wide-bellied jar-like vessel from the Western Zhou (44
cm tall). The missing of ornaments draws the attention to
the two handles and the rings at the neck of the covered
- (also called weng 瓮) a wide-bellied
sacrificial vessel for millet wine from late Shang times.
In spite of its huge character (40 cm tall) it is richly
decorated with Taotie patterns and
formed after the shape of Stone Age ceramics.
- three legged wine pot from early Shang. This simple
piece with the three teat-like feet is based upon
Neolithic shapes. With the long beak, some Chinese
authors compare this vessel type with an animal, but one
could think of more cultic parts of the body.
especially this piece with the extreme long beak whose
end is thickened and with the swollen upper part of the
legs could symbolize a phallus. There are also taller
pieces which look more like modern coffee pots. On the
right side, a similar vessel type called ying 鎣.
- a quadrangular multi-purpose vessel with Stone Age
forerunners. This piece dates from late Shang. The
character is a picture of the vessel.
- a jar-like vessel with a carrying handle from late
Shang (16 cm tall). This shape is very simple and has
Stone Age forerunners. Today the word guan means "tin" or "can".
- a stand for wine mugs or jars from the Spring and
Autumn period. This specimen is very richly decorated
with dragons (panchi 蟠螭).
|Vessels containing water to wash
- flat basin for washing hands or to serve dishes from
Shang to Spring and Autumn period. This piece has even
wheels and a bird-shaped prow. There are also rectangular
examples. Today, the word pan means "dish".
- a huge footed ladle for water from middle Western Zhou (30 cm
long). This piece has a cover that bears an inscription
with juristic content.
or 鑒 - a water basin from the
Spring and Autum period. The richly ornamented piece to
the left is from the Warring States period. Older
examples are often round, not rectangular. The Chinese
character for this vessel type is later being used with
the meaning of mirror, meaning the reflection of the
||Fu 釜 - a kind of
kettle with almost no ornaments. This rare specimen dates
from late Shang.
container (beizhu 貝貯)
- the mystical Taotie faces and the
sacrificial ritus are part of Shang art and culture. The
late Zhou time had a more practical approach to religion
and art. The bronze vessels were much more decorated with
scenes of daily life instead of the Shang and early Zhou
vessels whose main purpose was to sacrify wine and food
to the ancestors. The right coin container is from Western Han times.
||Wine heater - a rare example of
an ear bowl (erbei 耳杯)
with legs that is standing in a coal basin to heat the
wine inside the bowl, a piece from the Qin dynasty.
|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. The name taotie
is not original but was given in Song times when scholars
made first researches of Chinese art. It is said the taotie
monsters were very voracious, and therefore the Chinese
caracters for "Taotie" contain the character
for "eat". During Zhou times, the fierce
looking animals became dragons with button-like staring
eyes. Until the Han dynasty, the former compact monsters
transformed into slim and friendly dragons. Sometimes the
intertwined bodies of the Taotie remind of the lion
patterns of Nordic art (see an
example of Jellinge art) or the Maya glyphic art (see the face of the raingod Chac).
|< The Maya raingod Chac, detail from a Maya temple|
Copy of a Chinese bronze vessel design with taotie pattern >
||Clan insignia (zuhui
族徽) are among the first inscriptions of bronze
vessels. Except simple symbols for a family or clan, we
find names of persons, like the name of the owner of the
vessel or that of the person that casted the vessel,
other inscriptions declare the name of the person
sacrifying the goods inside the vessel of the name of the