Chinese Bronze Wares
Chinese bronze wares, which are also called bronzes for short, mainly refer to the utensils and vessels alloyed from the red bronze and some other chemical elements such as tin, nickel, lead, phosphorus, etc during Pre-Qin Period (Dynasties before 221BC). From the time when bronze wares were invented, they became very popular in ancient China and there came a brand new age---the Bronze Age in the history of China.
The Chinese people used rare and precious bronze to cast large quantities of ritual vessels, musical instruments, and weapons that were elegant in form, finely decorated, and clearly inscribed with Chinese characters. They affirm the artistic achievement of ancient China, and demonstrate how early Chinese used their ingenuity to create works incorporating both science and art from resources in nature.
Bronzes were quite popular from the late Neolithic Age (10,000 years ago) to the Qin and Han dynasties (221BC-220AD), during which the bronze wares made in the Shang and Zhou Dynasties (from 17th century BC to 3rd century BC) were extraordinarily well known for their exquisite qualities and beautiful designs. The earliest bronze wares were mainly small tools and ornaments. In the Xia Dynasty (Between 21th century BC and 17th century BC), bronze vessels and bronze weapons were invented.
Then during the mid-term of the Shang Dynasty (from 17th century BC to 11th century BC) there were relatively much more kinds of bronze wares, and inscriptions and delicate decorative patterns were carved onto the bronzes. From the late Shang Dynasty to the early Zhou Dynasty, it was heyday of the development of bronzes. There were various kinds of bronzes which were more colorful and solemn, with gradually more and more inscriptions, and complicated and beautiful decorative patterns. At that time, bronze wares could be used as ritual utensils exclusively by the aristocratic classes.
Later the main parts of the bronzes were made thinner and thinner, and the decorative patterns were gradually made simpler and simpler. From late Spring and Autumn Period to the Warring States Period (476BC-221BC), as a result of the widely use of iron wares, there were fewer and fewer bronze wares used in people's life. Then in the Qin and Han Dynasties, porcelains and lacquer wares were invented and widely used in the daily life, therefore there were much fewer kinds of bronze wares, which at that time were also designed to be much simpler and thinner.
The Chinese bronze wares have the following four characteristics.
First of all, they are very large in quantity and rich in categories. Nobody is able to tell how many pieces of bronze wares there are nowadays in China. According to statistics made by some experts, of all the bronzes wares excavated from Han Dynasty till now, just those with inscriptions could be numbered as large as above ten thousand in quantity. And there are also much more bronzes without inscriptions which have been excavated in China. In addition of the large quantities of the Chinese bronze wares, there are also abundant kinds of them. For example, there are drinking vessels, water vessels, food vessels, bronze weapons, sacrificial vessels, bronze utensils used in carriages, agricultural tools, working instruments, and many other bronze tools used in daily life. All the bronze wares have been made in vivid designs and colorful appearances, as a result visitors are always amazed and shocked when seeing them. What's more, as a result of large quantities and various kinds, it becomes much more difficult for experts to identify the detailed information about each of them. This is a very special characteristic of the Chinese bronze wares.
Secondly, the Chinese bronze wares which have been excavated are widely distributed all over the country and they are all in very good quality. The central parts of China have the largest and densest distributions of bronze wares in the country, however, in other parts of China including the northeast, northwest , Sichuan Province, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Tibet and even the small islands on the East China Sea, large quantities of bronze wares have been widely discovered and excavated. Different designs and art styles could be reflected from the various kinds of bronze ware excavated. The most prominent ones are those excavated from the tombs of the Shang Dynasty kings and aristocrats, with elegant and splendid quality and large quantity. The Simuwu Ding is one famous bronze work from the Shang Dynasty, and it is very big and heavy, with imposing designs, exquisite patterns, and excellent techniques. And it is also the biggest piece of bronze ware ever found in the world. King Wuding of the Shang Dynasty had his men make it as sacrifice to worship his mother.
Thirdly, the most prominent characteristic of the Chinese bronze wares is that inscriptions have been widely found on the bronzes. Most of the bronze wares ever excavated in other parts of the world have no inscriptions, and only a few of them excavated in India have been found with inscriptions. However, of all the bronze wares with inscriptions which have been excavated in the world, those from China have been made with relatively more characters. For example, there are as many as 497 Chinese characters on Maogongding, which was made in the Zhou Dynasty and now is placed in the Palace Museum in Beijing. All the inscriptions are rich in various writing styles, with great calligraphic values, and they are the most difficult and mysterious parts when experts identify the Chinese bronze wares.
Fourthly, the Chinese bronze wares dominated by bronze vessels have a very unique and special status in the bronze culture of the world. The ancient Chinese people have made a lot of bronze vessels with very complicated techniques and various patterns. Of all the bronze vessels, Ding was the most important kind and it played a very special role in the political life of the country in ancient times. As the Ding was always made with various designs and styles which could reflect different meanings and politics was also involved inside, experts nowadays always show great interest in the mysteries and riddles about the Ding. Moreover, the bronze culture in Europe is represented by bronze weapons, while the Chinese bronze culture is represented by bronze vessels, there comes the question whether the former is always aggressive while the latter is very conservative. Well, who knows!
In the Republic of China today, the beauty of traditional bronze art is still to be found in incense burners and sacrificial vessels in temples, in statues on display in schools, or in decorative pieces in homes; all have been influenced by the art of China's ancient bronzes. Free application of traditional bronze designs has become an indispensable element of modern architecture, apparel, and furniture design. This is one way that the brilliance and artistry of the early Chinese continue their everlasting shine into the lives of Chinese today and of the future.