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Discuss the use of bronze in ancient China.

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Introduction

Discuss the use of bronze in ancient China. The history of China is universally considered one of the most complex and fascinating, and as an historic centre, China is responsible for some of the most important ancient artifacts in the world. Material culture has existed in China for thousands of years, and despite the Bronze Age arriving relatively later in China than most of the world, China soon became a country of master bronze craftsmen with their own unique moulding technique, eventually leading to the mass production of elaborate material goods. Bronze was initially used to craft weapons from in China, and was first found being used for this in the Shang dynasty, where the main weapons that were made and used were bronze halberds (axe-like weapons) and spears (Tregear, 2003: 21). Weapons began to be made from bronze at this time as this made the weapons considerably more effective than their stone predecessors. Bronze soon became popular for creating decorative and ritual items, and as it was a relatively scarce material at the time, owning several bronze items clearly displayed power, and bronze quickly became a symbol of wealth and status. The casting method used in ancient Chinese bronze-making was unique, and it is not known where this technique originated, though since it has not yet been found in other cultures, it is quite likely that it may have been conceived in China itself. ...read more.

Middle

The 'Kui' dragons, rather two-legged creatures with snouts, tails and ears, are a main feature in many vessels, and may be representative of blood sacrifices during the rituals the vessels were used within (Tregear, 2003: 28) Some people believe the faces may have been to represent gluttony and indulgence (Tregear, 2003: 28), as the ritual feasts they would have been used at must have been plentiful (Rawson, 1992: 59). The 'Taotie' face motif may also have become as popular as it did due to its versatility, as it can be found on a variety of different shaped and sized vessels (Rawson, 1992: 59), allowing a repetitive motif throughout a ceremonial dinner set. Additional to the common motifs found on ancient Chinese bronze vessels, the vessels are heavily decorated with angular spirals (Ledderose, 2000: 32). These spirals fill the entire outside of the vessel, and are of varying size so as to fit into particular places on the object. The spirals however are often unforgiving to the asymmetry of an object, and upon closer inspection, the differences between each part of the vessel are clear from the spirals alone (Ledderose, 2000: 32). They do still somewhat provide a sense of continuity around each side of the vessel, even if it has differently placed motifs, and the spirals also provide continuity between numerous objects, as they appear on almost all bronze ritual vessels of the time. ...read more.

Conclusion

The forms are derivative of pottery, and the intended uses remain the same - vessels for cooking - however, these items are ceremonial, and would have been used very rarely, in some cases not at all (Tregear, 2003: 28). The different shapes and sizes found within the spectrum of these Chinese bronze vessels are possibly due to them being intended for use with specific foods or drinks (Rawson, 1992: 56). The rituals the items were produced for are not completely clear, however a strong idea is that the items were used for ceremonial meals to honour ancestors (Ledderose, 2000: 29) because of their forms. The use of bronze in ancient China was undoubtedly a luxury, outside of bronze being used to make the most effective weapons. Obviously, not all families could afford it, and it was exclusively used within the households of the royal and the wealthy, for rituals and for elaborate decoration. The factors which were required for the ritual usage of the material such as the methods used to make vessels, and the designs behind them, are important. They are distinctively Chinese and are very individual, so it is actually appropriate that the country's leaders would use the vessels created from bronze, and the weapons made from the scarce material would have been used to fight for the country of China. ...read more.

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