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Covered ritual wine vessel (gong)

Enlarge this image. Covered ritual wine vessel (gong), approx. 1050–900 B.C.E. China; Western Zhou dynasty (1050–771 B.C.E). Bronze. The Courtesy of the Asian Art Museum, Avery Brundage Collection, B60B1004.
What is this object?
This object (gong) has no immediate precedent in the archaeological record. It is found in the late Shang tomb of Fu Hao, but not before. Where other ritual bronze shapes develop from ceramic prototypes, thegong appears to have developed as a unique form in bronze. The curved lid and strong handle suggest a pouring action, so the gong was most likely a wine pourer.  An inscription on the inside cover and base reads: “Second son Qi X made for esteemed and accomplished Father ding (this) sacrificial vessel.” (X is an undecipherable character.) Therefore, this gong was used for ancestral offerings.

Who were the Zhou?

The Zhou (pronounced ‘joe’) formed the second major dynasty of ancient China. They emerged as a powerful group from the west during the late Shang dynasty, eventually conquering the Shang and claiming the ‘mandate of heaven’ or right to rule. For a brief period, during the early Western Zhou, birds became a popular form of decoration. Birds had appeared on Shang bronzes, but became the major decorative motif at the time this vessel was made, complete with long tails and plumes. The profusion of plumed birds on this vessel, therefore, helps to date it to the early Western Zhou dynasty.

What are all the animal forms on this vessel?

Of all the ritual bronze vessel types, the gong contains a multitude of animal forms covering the entire vessel. The vessel can be read from a number of different angles. Aside from the plumed birds already mentioned, there are taotie masks on the front and back. The face on the front of the lid is baring its teeth. Its head is crowned with bottle horns. On the back, another face rises above a bird with spiky projections. Its main feature is two curved horns that resemble flat ears, best seen from the back of the vessel. Kui dragons and leiwen patterns can be found throughout.

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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    Why is this repeatedly referred to as a "Gong"...I thought a "Gong" was the large circular metal object that you would bang with a mallet to make a loud sound for ceremonial or summoning purposes...?
    (3 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Kate Dalgleish
      While the cymbal instrument gong is found in China, the term "gong" to mean the instrument is an Indonesian/Malay word - the instrument is called "luo" in Chinese.

      However, even if it was called "gong", you can have homonyms. (Like a dog's bark vs, a tree's bark.) Chinese has a lot of homonyms, especially when you ignore the tone system that gives extra depth and context to the language.
      (6 votes)
  • leafers seed style avatar for user reg fallah
    ..early western zhou when birds became a major decorative motif: surely there must be other cultures and precedents for the popularity of birds as motifs, e.g. Inca Persian etc. Are there any explanations- anthropological or otherwise- for this popularity?
    (4 votes)
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  • female robot grace style avatar for user amelia78846
    How did archaeologists know that the gong was for wine, and not for any other drink?
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Rod Scott
    The use of the words 'rite' and 'right' have been confused.
    (3 votes)
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  • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
    How do the Leiwen Figures of the Zhou compare to the modern ones in San Antonio that were a gift from Taiwan?https://www.sariverfoundation.org/index.php/river-initiatives/museum-reach/hemisfair-panels/
    (1 vote)
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