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Late Prehistoric China | Bronze Age China | Chu and Other Cultures | Early Imperial China

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object 10
Shi Qiang bronze vessel (pan)
H 16.2 cm, D 47.3 cm
Middle Western Zhou Dynasty (end of 10th century B.C.)
From Hoard 1, Zhuangbai, Fufeng, Shaanxi Province
Excavated in 1976-1977
Zhou Yuan Administrative Office of Cultural Relics, Fufeng

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This vessel is one of 103 bronzes from Hoard 1 at Zhuangbai in the area known as the Zhou Yuan, which has yielded the largest number of bronze vessels in all of China. Inscriptions on the Zhuangbai vessels refer to five generations of the Wei family. The vessels document changes in the nature of ritual objects and styles of decoration.

The pan vessel seen here, with its bird motifs, belongs to the middle of the Western Zhou period. A lengthy inscription inside the basin makes it one of the most important ancient bronzes. The 284 characters are presented in two parallel halves. One side is a poetic description of the first seven Zhou kings. The other describes four generations of the Wei family, ending with a wish for long life and continued merit in the service of the Zhou kings.

The inscription identifies members of the extended family. We know that the first ancestor was related to the ruling house of the Shang dynasty. By submitting to King Wu of Zhou, the family was rewarded with a plot of land in the Zhou Yuan area. The vessel's owner (Shi Qiang) speaks of his current duties as royal scribe. By documenting his family history, Qiang was underscoring his family's connections to the Zhou court.

Shang bronze vessels were cast specifically for sacrifices to the ancestors, but attention was now shifting to the recording of important events and honors bestowed by the ruling king. Shi Qiang's vessel is more a trophy than a religious object. The honors he proclaimed extended to himself, the ancestors, and future generations. Unlike Fu Hao, who announced status through the size and distinctiveness of her bronzes (see Bronze owl-shaped vessel [zun]), this vessel conveys prestige through the illustrious history recorded in its inscription.

The final part of the inscription reads:

Would that this valorous grandfather and cultured
deceased father grant favor;
and give Qiang vibrant freshness,
fortunate peace, blessed wealth,
a yellowing old age, and a prolonged life
so that he may be worthy to serve his ruler.
May he for ten thousand years eternally
treasure and use it.

trans. Edward L. Shaughnessy

Unlike many other objects discussed in this packet, this pan was not part of a burial. Instead it was hidden underground, probably in 771 as the Zhou were forced to move their capital east under military pressure from the west. Its owner fully intended to retrieve it. A hoard provides information on the possessions that an individual valued highly in life -- as opposed to a grave, which contains objects chosen for the afterlife.

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