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Covered Qi da guan ding vessel
Western Han dynasty (206 BCE–9 CE)
Cast bronze; H. 19 cm
Seven-character inscription: Qi da guan Xu Nan Gong ding
Excavated 1999, Luozhuang, Zhangqiu County
Collection of the Jinan Municipal Museum
(cat. #4)


This covered ding vessel has a beautifully balanced form. Its flattened spherical body rests on three cabriole legs and is flanked by L-shaped handles attached below the rim; three rings adorn the cover.[1] This shape is characteristic of ding from the late Eastern Zhou (6th century BCE) through the Han dynasty. However, by the Han, the richly ornamented surfaces of the late Eastern Zhou vessels have become elegantly plain and smooth. Here, a single raised ridge accents the curved body by wrapping around it horizontally, dividing the belly of the vessel in half and complementing the horizontal line of the rim just above it. Each of the three rings on the cover has a small wedge-shaped projection; these serve both as handles and as feet when the cover is removed and set down.

This ding comes from an early Western Han tomb at Luozhuang in Zhangqiu county, a tomb that reflects a culture and society in transition from feudal warring states to imperial empire. Much of the tomb’s contents, as well as its architecture, conforms to late Warring States burial practices and includes sets of bells and chimes (see p. xx, fig. 4), life-size chariot burials with horses (see p. xx, fig. 6), horse and chariot fittings, bridle ornaments of nomadic style (cat. no. 45 and p. xx, fig. 7), painted lacquer, bronze vessels, and rudimentary wooden human figures.[2] The main tomb, believed to belong to a marquis or king of Lu, was accompanied by thirty-three burial pits filled with the kind of grave goods described above.[3]

Pit 5 contained over 90 bronze objects including vessels such as the yu, the yi, and over 19 covered ding, many with inscriptions. By the Han dynasty, these still-revered bronze vessels maintained only a tenuous connection with their original ritual and ceremonial roles in Shang and Zhou society. Bronze vessels were sometimes replaced in burials by clay models, such as the ding from Yinqueshan, Linyi county, Shandong (cat. no. 5), which has been lacquered to replicate a shiny metal surface. Like chariots (see cat. no. 28), bronze ritual vessels also became symbols of status and wealth. The seven-character inscription Qi da guan Xu Nan Gong ding, just above one cabriole leg on the side of the vessel, refers to “the great Qi official Xu and Southern Palace ding.” The inscription on the much larger covered ding in the tomb suggests that it was a gift from the king of Qi to the king of Lu, who, from the clay seals excavated in Pits 3 and 4, is believed to be the owner of this tomb.[4] It is possible that the reference to an official of Qi indicates that this vessel was also a gift to the king of Lu as well. In the Luozhuang tomb and accompanying pits, the number of bronze vessels and the content of the short inscriptions underscore the role of vessels in political and diplomatic exchanges.[5]

all text & images © China Institute Gallery


1. The three photographs published by Kwang-chih Chang in “The Chinese Bronze Age: A Modern Synthesis,” in The Great Bronze Age of China, ed. Wen Fong (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1980), pp 46–47, clearly illustrate the changes in the shape and décor of the ding from the Shang through the Western and Eastern Zhou dynasties.

2. See the recently published report in Jinan shi kaogu yaniu suo et al., “Shandong Zhangqiu Luozhuang Hanmu peizang keng de qingli, pp. 3–16 and color plates following p. 96. See also Guojia wenwu ju, ed., Zhongguo zhongyao kaogu faxian 1999 [Major Archaeological Discoveries in China in 1999] (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 2001), no. 6, pp. 75–76, for the tomb plan, lacquer ware fragments, and collapsed wooden logs from one pit; see also, Hu Siyong, Jing shi Han Wang Ling (Shandong: Jinan chubanshe, 2001).

3. See the Luozhuang tomb plan in Hu Siyong, Jing shi Han Wang Ling, p. 63.

4. This was discussed with Tony Barbieri-Low, Susan Beningson, and Cary Liu while handling some of the ding on a visit to Jinan in May of 2004. See also Guojia wenwu ju, ed., Zhongguo zhongyao kaogu faxian 1999, no. 6, p. 78.

5. See also Susan L. Beningson, “The Spiritual Geography of Han Dynasty Tombs,” in this catalogue, pp. xx–xx.

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