The foundation of Chinese culture was laid four thousand years ago in the remote ages of Three Dynasties (c. 2070 ~ 221 B.C.E.): Xia, Shang, and Zhou, during which Rites and Music acquired the status of the keystone of society. Their importance is illustrated by the fact that Confucius (551 ~ 479 B.C.E.) often praised the "Instituting of Rites and Making of Music" by Duke of Zhou as the two greatest paragons of cultural institutions.
The Culture of Rites and Music embodied itself in bronzes, which were considered "Treasure of the State". Ding (cauldron) was foremost among all ritual vessels; zhong (bell) the prime musical instrument. To display sacrificial offerings and to perform ceremonial music, cauldron sets and bell ensembles were indispensable parts of any grand events of worship.
Fresh-cast bronzes shine like gold so the ancients sometimes referred to them as jing (gold). In the nomenclature of epigraphy, the words cast or engraved on bronzes are accordingly called jing wen (Golden Script), or zhong ding wen (Bell and Cauldron Script). These vessels were commissioned to commemorate unusual accomplishments or great virtues, and to offer memorial sacrifices in the family temples, so as to honor ancestors and to pass down to posterity. Today the accompanying inscriptions provide not only first-hand materials attesting to historical veracity, but also valuable sources for understanding the subsequent development of Chinese characters.
Zong Zhou Zhong (Bell of Zhou), commissioned by King Li of West Zhou, is the most important musical instrument cast under his royal decree. Mao Gong Ding (Cauldron of Duke of Mao), commissioned by a high official of consequence Duke of Mao, who was also an uncle of King Xuan, carries the longest bronze text so far extant. Surely the combined 620 plus characters of these two noble vessels do not encompass all the "Golden Scripts" of Shang and Zhou, but as the saying goes, the parts could very well disclose the nature of the whole. Sufficient context and clues are available in them for us to delve into the possible origins.
With this in mind, the present exhibit will take us on a Feast of Chinese Characters: the Origin and Development, and with it a long-live toast of joy to the eternal Realm of Han Ideograms.
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