Xia Dynasty China – 2,070-1,600 BCE

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Pottery Jue
Bronze Ding
Bronze Jing ton
Black pottery goblet
Bi plaque
Xia pottery
Xia relief
Portrait of Yu the Great

The Xia is considered to have been the first dynasty of China, Founded by Yu the Great, when the last of the Five Emperors, Shun, passed the throne to him. They were Huaxi people, ancestors of the Han.Yu’s father Gun is the first recorded Xia, he was appointed by Emperor Yao to organise a group of tribes to address the regular floodings of the Yellow River. He applied nine years of effort without success.

Yu took the task on for the next thirteen years, and by digging canals that ran the excess waters out to the sea he eventually enjoyed success, and this permitted more organised agriculture. Yu passed the mantle to his son, Qi, and established the Hereditary System in China) or was it nepotism?) The Xia bevcame caln led and

There is no documentary evidence of the dynasty (the first such records are from the late Shang Dynasty). Though it is said to have lasted five centuries and was ruled by seventeen emperors. In 1996 the Chinese government concluded its dates to be 2,070-1,600 BCE. It is best-known artistically for its bronze and other metalwork, including gold. Jade and ivory carving featured as did the first calligraphy.

Erlitou, on the Luohe river in Henan Province, was a significant town for the Xia, it was a centre of bronze-making. Owning the many forms of bronze ritual items

“as tangible symbols of their possessors’ heaven-bestowed right to wield political power, as well as to worship and supplicate heaven, the spirits, and the clan’s and nation’s ancestors on behalf of themselves, their clans, their dynasties and their people, thereby ensuring peace, prosperity and heavenly protection from natural disasters within the lands under their control.” Christian Deydier Understanding Ancient Chinese Bronzes.

Traces of two major palaces were found at Erlitou (built 1,875-1,575 BCE), and beneath one of these a much larger palace was discovered (built 1,975 BCE). This third site had courtyards that contained tombs that yielded bronze containers, jades, lacquerware, pottery and ceramic art.

A later site dated to 1,700 BCE has been identified as an imperial palce which may have been Xia and later Shang.

The capitals of the dynasty were later established at Zhenxun (modern Gongyi) and Yangcheng (modern Gaocheng).


Xia pottery jue wine drinking vessel discovered at Erlitou. It is dated to 2,100 – 1,800 BCE. wine mugs, the earliest found dates from the Erlitou culture (right picture). Typical features are a long spout (liu) on one side and a shorter one (wei) on the other.Small handles (pan) are fitted on both sides.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Xia Bronze ritual Ding cauldron was a sacrificial vessel. The Hòumǔwù ding pictured below (literally meaning Queen Mother Wu ding) is the largest such vessel found to date.

Xia bronze ritual Jin tong jug.
Many other sorts of ritual vessel have been found – a jar (dou), a jar with a lid (gui), a bowl-shaped vessel (yu), a vase (zhi), a table (zu) and a larger ding (fangding).

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

This goblet made from ‘eggshell pottery’ was fabricated as separate stem and body then fitted together. It is assumed that firewaood was used in the kiln and this gave the pottery its black colour. It is dated to 2,500 – 2,000 BCE and assumed as of the Shandong Longshan Culture.
The Xia bi, is a Chinese ritual or decorative flat disk with a relatively small hole at its middle. Its purpose and development remains a source for academic debate.
Image source: pinterest.com

Image source: shine.cn

The Erlitou Relic Museum opened in 2019 and houses 2,000 items – bronzes, pottery and jade.
This relief greets visitors to the Erlitou Relic Museum.
Image source: xinhuanet.com

Image source: Wikimedia commons
Yu the Great (c. 2123–2025 BC) was a legendary king famed for his introduction of flood control, his establishment of the Xia dynasty (which in turn inaugurated dynastic rule in China) and for his upright moral character.

The image shows a hanging scroll depicting King Yu as imagined by by Song Dynasty painter Ma Lin. It is colour on silk, 249 x 111 cm and is on show at the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

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