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The Chinese perfect the art of bronze casting




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During the Bronze Age, people in many regions of the world generated metal tools for the first time, but in China artworks of the highest order were produced.

Ancient people across the globe cast simple tools and weapons in bronze, a major breakthrough for human development. When the technique was developed in China it inspired far more than mere blades. Bronze Age craftsmen there created bronze castings of elegant shapes adorned with detailed patterns.

The finest of these castings are the ritual vessels that were produced during the era of the Shang rulers, the first major Chinese dynasty, who came to power in about 1500 bce. These lavish objects contained offerings of food and drink during ceremonies where rulers and ancestors were worshiped. Large numbers of these vessels, filled with sacrificial offerings for the afterlife, were buried in tombs alongside the dead. It was hoped that the spirits of the dead would watch over the fortunes of their descendants.

These elaborate ritual ceremonies reflect the power and political organization the Shang rulers imposed in an era when most of the world's peoples were just beginning to form structured communities. The materials used in China were scarce and costly, and the casting process was labour-intensive and required highly skilled craftsmen. Varied ranges of vessel designs were used. More than twenty different types have been identified. The shapes of many of the ritual vessels were based on everyday utensils, often originally made in earthenware, that had been in use since Neolithic times. These simple objects were transformed into sophisticated artworks. The ding — a form of cauldron — eventually became the most important. The shape appears to have originated as a pottery basin. At a later stage, three legs were added to the basin, so that it could be heated over a fire. The other types of vessels included a xian (steamer), a yu (bucket), and a gu (goblet).

 

2 Ding

Artist unknown, c.1200-1100 BCE


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