Bronze Age in the development of human culture follows the Neolithic Age, the period of time when humans were using tools made of stone for hunting, as weapons and as appliances for the household. Bronze Age brought an understanding of the skill of copper mining, smelting and crafting bronze tools, weapons, and ritual objects. The main two influences in China during the Bronze Age were dynasties of Zhou and Shang. In this paper, I propose research of their cultural differences and how they reflected on the bronzes.
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Bronze Age for the Chinese civilization started around 2000 B. C. during the rule of Shang dynasty. The Shang kingdom occupied a large territory spread along the banks of the Yellow River. These days this territory belongs to Henan province of China. Ancient Chinese believed that the kings are glorious while the spirits support them.
To remain strong and victorious, the kings had to win the spirits’ blessing and good attitude. According to the ancient Chinese beliefs, the way to achieve this was through sacrificing humans to the spirits and gods. Bronze vessels became a royal attribute during the rule of Shang dynasty.
Zhou dynasty defeated the Shang in 1046. The time of Zhou ruling in China is divided into two main periods – Western and Eastern Zhou. The culture of Zhou people was similar to Shang culture. Although the archeologists noticed that Zhou reduced the number of human sacrifices. Bronze remained one of the most important royal symbols. Besides, Zhou craftsmen started to use bronze vessels to create inscriptions of the achievements of their kings (Sullivan 2014).
There were two main methods of casting bronze. The lost wax method meant that the original sculpture was made of wax, and then its mold was created. In the process of making the final copy of the object in bronze, the mold was destroyed. The second method is called piece-mold casting. This method is much older than the previous one; all the earliest Chinese sculptures were created by means of piece-mold casting.
One of the most well-known traits associated with the bronze vessels of Shang dynasty was the so-called taotie. Taotie is the type of ornament, based on the images of animals and birds that are present on Shang bronzes. Taotie has eyes, fangs, ears, horns; sometimes it is only a picture of the head of an animal, sometimes it has other body parts added (Shang and Zhou Dynasties: the Bronze Age of China 2013).
Zhou bronzes, especially vessels, are known for the inscriptions that nowadays serve as amazing archeological documents. Making a bronze vessel, the craftsmen of Zhou were inserting a special core to create a cavity inside of the vessel. This core was engraved with writings telling about the heroic achievements of Zhou royalty. The symbols were very fine and clear, even thousands of years later the scientists can read and translate them.
The differences between the ornament patterns of these two periods were created by the influence of silk and fabric embroidery that has developed during the Zhou period. As a result, the vessels of Zhou have less abstract patterns; the animals can be easily recognized; the images became flowing. New shapes of vessels appeared. One more difference specific to the Zhou period is Chinese first attempt to put images of people into their ornaments.
“Shang and Zhou Dynasties: the Bronze Age of China.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Web.
Sullivan, Michael. “Chinese Bronzes.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Web.