Zhou Dynasty China (1,046 – 221 BCE)

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Li gui vessel
Bronze Buffalo
Da Yu cauldron
Four-ram square Zun
Bronze figurines from Shiushan tomb
Guojizibai water vessel
Zhou Horse and Chariot Grave
Spring and Autumn Period:
Hu Earthenware Flask
Bronze Zhongs
Warring States Period:
Lacquered Ding vessel
Zhong bell
Bronze biānzhōng bells

The Zhou Dynasty lasted longer than any other. It was founded by the Ji family and made its capital at Hao (near today’s Xian). They shared the language and the culture of the Shang, and through conquest and colonisation, spread Shang practice broadly to the north of the Yangtse.

Agriculture was key to the dynasty, all productive land was owned by nobles and allocated to serfs to work them. They ruled by the fengjian system, usually described as similar to the Europen feudal system. This system is often said to have stretched from the Zhou period to the end of the Qing in 1911 CE.

Land was divided into nine squares arranged like the character jing. The grain from the middle square was for the government and the other squares were kept by the serf farmers. The government stored any surplus food so that they could distribute this in times of famine or bad harvest.

Literacy was a theme, with the Zhou Xu schools building on the success of earlier schools system of the Xi and Shang. To the east of their capital the Xu were colleges for the children of nobles, to the west the XU provided elementary education for the children of the general population.

The Zhou published a number of classic books regarded as cardinal texts to learn. These included the I-Ching, the Book of Poems, the Book of Learning, the Book of Li (detailing the rules of social conduct) and Spring and Autumn Annals.

There were a number of great thinkers during the period, the most important being Confucius (551–479 BCE). He established the approach for Chinese humanism, moral codes to guide social conduct, defining the approach between emperor and subjects, parents and children, and husband and wife. Others included: Lao Tse, the founder of Daoism, proposing a return to nature; Han Fei-tze who contrarily emphasised the importance of the legal system; Guan Zhong focused on economics and government taxation.

The Zhou centrally ruled a number of city states and introduced iron to China. This weaked the Ji royal family with local leaders eventually declaring themselves as kings.


Image source: china.org.cn


This Zhou Li or Gui vessel was used for cooked rice and other foods, and may have been used for rituals too. It is 28 x 22cms and weighs c8kgs. Four lines with 32 characters were inscribed inside the base, detailing the history of King Wu’s conquest over Yin.
Discovered in Lintong County of Shanxi Province, it is the earliest Western Zhou bronze found to date, It is considered to be one of the top ten masterpieces in the National Museum of China.
This Zhou Bronze Buffalo is c26 cm long. Perhaps made to mark the importance of buffalos in agriculture. It has a pattern of recessed F-shaped motifs, it has spirals on its legs and a diamond shaoe on its forehead. Its head looks to the right, with its mouth open and it has horns curled closed to its head. Its tail is curled over the near flank.
The Zhou sought to capture the energy of creatures rather than a naturalistic depiction.

Image source: alaintruong.com


Image source: china.org.cn


This Zhou Da Yu cauldron is 102 cm high and 78 cm in diameter and weighs 154 kgs. Found in Meixian County, Shaanxi Province, and is the largest item of Western Zhou bronze found to date. It is another of the National Museum of China’s top 10.
Also in the National Museum of China’s top 10, is this Late Shang/early Zhou four-ram square Fang Zun. The rams’ heads with curly horns are at its four corners
Image source: china.org.cn


Image source: thejakartapost.com


Zhou bronze figurines thought to have been looted from Shiushan tomb, Baoji, Shaanxi province. They are Western Zhou water vessels.
Another from the National Museum of China’s top 10. This Zhou Guojizibal water vessel is 137 x 87cm and 40 cm high, it weighs 215 kgs. It was a common water vessel during the late Western Zhou period, but this pan has 111 inscriptions on its bottom that tell the story behind the bronze.
Image source: china.org.cn


Image source: dailymail.co.uk


Zhou Horse and Chariot Grave – this grave contained the owner’s chariot and horses at Luoyang, Henan Province, China. Four such graves were found here. It is dated to 770 BCE
Eastern Zhou – Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BCE)
This hu earthenware flask, dates from the Spring and Autumn period. It is on show at the Longxian County Museum, Baoji.
Image source: artblart.com


Image source: alaintruong.com


Seeven bronze zhongs, the tallest 44cms. This yongzhong bell, with a shank and a lug, was one of the most important musical instruments of the Zhou dynasty, they were were played during rituals and banquets of the aristocracy. It is said that these bells were made only with refined material on an auspicious day
Eastern Zhou – Warring States Period (475-221 BCE)
Lacquered earthenwre Ding vessel, on show at
Shangluo City Museum, Shangluo.

Image source: artblart.com


Image source: metmuseum.org
Warring Period Zhong Bell, decorated with protruding nipples grouped in four sections of nine. The zhong first appeared during the Zhou dynasty. Its long-stemmed T-shaped clanger gives it excellent musical qualities, with a clear sound that decays rapidly and a defined and focused pitch. The zhong is usually found in odd-numbered sets of bells of graduated size and pitch.

Image source: Wikimedia commons
This set of bronze biānzhōng bells were found in 1978 from the early Warring States Tomb of Marquis Yĭ of Zēng. These bear inscriptions using over 2,800 characters. But are now perhaps as memorable for being on show at Wuhan’s Provincial Museum, the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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