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Chinese Bronze


        Shang craftsmen have a special place in world art history: their huge bronze (copper alloyed with 10 to 20 percent tin) decorated ritual vessels, wine cups and weapons are of a standard of skill and artistry that have not been surpassed. Many Shang bronzes bear inscriptions which shed light on their society.
     Tripod vessels originated in the late Neolithic period and were popular in Shang times. Such vessels were used for ritual purposes: others were cooking vessels for sacrificial food. They ranged from cups and goblets which be held in the hand, to gigantic tripod weighing half a ton. Shang bronzes were remarkable for the powerful and elegant design.
      Those artifacts decoration is a combination of geometrical pattern, spirals, squares, and triangles, with zoomorphic from more or less stylized and often amalgamated with the geometrical design. In the bronze artifacts the geometrical pattern of triangle is in fact a stylized representation of the cicada, which, in early summer, infests the trees and fills the air with a cheerful whistling sound. The cicada was an emblem of spring, and the leaf-like shape of the insect led, by an easy association of ideas, to a development of the pattern into a palm leaf and cicada motif, in which the original cicada, represented by a triangle, now encloses a true cicada as the center of the design.
       The Bronze Age in China started in 21st century BC and lasted about 2000 years through xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties. The bronzes, as a precious metal ware, were mainly used for ceremonial purposes by the upper class at that time. The variety and quantity of the bronzes that be used in an occasion could be a reflection of the owner’s social status and power. It was high-technically cast in great varieties of category, sophisticated shapes and beautiful designs and distributed in the middle and lower reaches both of the Yellow and Changjing rivers and some remote border areas. The ancient Chinese bronze technology is one of the most important achievements of Chinese civilization.

Main uses of some of the bronze

Wine vessel


    from which wine is poured on the ground to offer sacrifices to ancestors
    from which wine is poured into a cup or drunk
    in which wine is contained, large or medium in size
   in which wine is contained
Fang Yi
  in which wine is contained
  in which wine is contained, mostly in an animal shape
  from which wine is drunk
    in which water is contained to mingle with wine
  in which wine is contained, large or medium in size
  in which a spicy wine(made of millet) is contained
   evolved from Lei, in which wine is contained
  from which wine is drunk


Food vessel


pot to cook or contain meat
container for cooked rice or water
container for cooked grain, as millet and rice
large-sized container for cooked rice or water
food container 


Water vessel

 large-sized container for water or ice
  washing basin, used together with Yi
   from which water is poured for washing


Musical instrument


percussion instrument
percussion instrument
percussion instrument





dagger axe
spear head


Major decorative designs on ancient Chinese bronze

Animal mask design

A front view of a real or imaginative animal’s head with Nose Bridge as the central line, and its horns, eyebrows, eyes, ears, nostril, mouth and long teeth symmetrically arranged at the two sides from top to bottom. The body and tail extend at the two sides and sometimes with a pair of craws underneath. It is a reflection of people’s worship of nature at that time.

                                        Phoenix-like bird design 

      It is an imaginative holy bird which has a beautiful crest, a hooked bill, a curved body and tail and was believed as God of wind or rather the envoy of the God of heaven.

                                              Dragon design

    It describes an animal with a long and wriggling body. In Chinese fairy tales, dragon is the God of water, a mysterious being. People worship it as the power of nature.



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