Understanding Shang-Zhou Bronze Craftsmanship

Controlling, Curating, and Organising
11:00 am – 12:45 pm
Room B

  • Organised by Maria Khayutina, Cao Bin
  • Maria Khayutina, “Controlling and Restricting or Curating and Competing: Bronze-Casting Facilities in the Wei River Valley”
  • Bin Cao, “The Xiaomintun Bronze Foundry-site in Anyang and the Origin of Bronzes from Daijiawan-Shigushan in Baoji”
  • Ondřej Škrabal, “Bronze Inscription Making Management during the Shang and Zhou: Evidence of the Epigraphic Content and Form”
  • Yitzchak Jaffe, Discussant

The rise of complex over-regional political systems coincides in China with the spread of bronze-casting technology. Especially bronze vessels and bells are understood as symbols of political power and authority. The ability to curate and to control the production of bronze is thus regarded as a key factor of political organisation of the Shang and Zhou dynasties. Therefore, it is crucially important to understand how the bronze production itself was organized and how political elite interacted with craftsmen. The accumulation of data about excavated bronzes, excavations of bronze-smelting and bronze-casting sites with associated residential and mortuary complexes, as well as archaeometallurgical investigations of the recent decades shed new light on and raise many new questions about Shang-Zhou craftsmanship. This panel brings together archeologists, epigraphers, and historians, including one invited discussant, to ponder on the following issues: 1) How the raising Zhou elite acquired Shang bronze-casting know-hows? 2) Was Zhou bronze-casting centrally controlled or multiple facilities were concurrently in use? 3) What the analysis of excavated bronze artefacts suggests about the degree of organisational complexity of bronze-casting?
The panel intends to stimulate critical debates and to boost interdisciplinary cooperation within the field of Early China studies.

Maria Khayutina, “Controlling and Restricting or Curating and Competing: Bronze-Casting Facilities in the Wei River Valley

The control of bronze production is often imagined as a major lever of political control in the Shang and Zhou polities. Many scholars believe that the respective royal houses alone run bronze workshops that were able to cast ritual vessels that the kings distributed as gifts among their subordinates, thus securing their loyalty. Private casting would not be possible either due to extreme complexity of the bronze industry, or because the kings would prohibit it to prevent the devaluation of their gifts. High standardisation of vessels’ appearance is often mentioned as evidence of centralised control. Various data accumulated during recent decades reveal that polities on Shang and Zhou peripheries produced bronze vessels, often copying models from the royal centres, but also producing objects with local characteristics. The most intriguing question is now whether bronze-casting in the Shang and Zhou core areas was indeed centrally managed? The present paper focuses on the Wei valley, presumably, directly supervised by the Zhou court, and argues that apart from the royal house, other major aristocratic lineages curated workshops that produced bronze ritual vessels. Based on the analysis of bronze li-tripods excavated from different places, it identifies and maps several local traditions that followed different standards. The analysis of palaeography and contents of the vessels’ inscriptions, as well as a comparison of bronze and pottery li from the same localities, are further used to verify the hypothesis of decentralised bronze-casting.

Bin Cao, “The Xiaomintun Bronze Foundry-site in Anyang and the Origin of Bronzes from Daijiawan-Shigushan in Baoji

After the Zhou conquest of Shang, the political centre shifted to the west and western elites began extensively using bronze. The present paper explores the relationships between the bronzes from Daijawan-Shigushan cemeteries in Baoji (hereafter DSB) and the Xiaomintun foundry in Anyang, suggesting that the latter was still in use after the conquest and that it was controlled by and served the needs of the westerners. The specific DSB features include qi-halberds, qi-halberds with phoenix pattern, and the palm-shaped horn décor. Similar features have been attested on pottery moulds from Xiaomintun. Scholars debate whether these bronzes represent war booty, or they were cast by the westerners after the conquest. The analysis of the DSB assemblages demonstrates that they date from the early and even from the early middle Western Zhou. Considering these chronological relationships, the abovementioned specific bronzes were likely cast in Xiaomintun after the founding of the Western Zhou state. Comparable features appear on the bronzes from the earlier Guojiazhuang tomb M160 in Anyang. Many of these bear a lineage emblem representing a footprint within the ya 亞-shape. This emblem may be related to the Zhou descent myth and may suggest the occupant’s Zhou identity. Zhou representatives could live in Anyang as hostages, while Shang craftsmen could produce bronzes according to their taste. After the conquest, the Zhou could continue using Shang craftsmen in the Xiaomintun foundry to cast bronzes with specific characteristics.

Ondřej Škrabal, “Bronze Inscription Making Management during the Shang and Zhou: Evidence of the Epigraphic Content and Form”

While inscribed bronzes constituted only a fraction of the manufacturing output of bronze workshops during the Shang and Zhou periods, they serve as the main source of information not only on the political and social history of their times but also as important sources for hypotheses on the modes of production and distribution of ritual bronzes. Unlike in the second half of the first millennium BCE, however, there is no direct textual evidence in the earlier epigraphy evincing the division of labour behind the creation of bronze objects, and despite some very recent breakthroughs in the archaeology of bronze casting, there remain significant lacunae in our knowledge of workflow and division of labour in the bronze workshops. To shed more light on various aspects of the management of bronze inscription making in Shang and Zhou bronze workshops, this paper explores the indirect evidence of scribal hands, omissions, corrections and other infelicities both in writing and formatting of the inscriptions; such approach can not only deepen our understanding of the complexity of the organisation and related hierarchies but also can offer insights into the interaction of aristocrats with the workshops as well as into the control or supervision mechanisms, thus contributing to the study of the social and political organisation of bronze casting in Early China. Considered together with the development of inscription-making techniques and the recent archaeological discoveries, this paper also provides subsidiary evidence for the study of the process of vulgarisation of bronze casting between 9th and 6th centuries BCE.

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Room B
Controlling, Curating, and Organising