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The Li Ceremonial System and Daily Life

The Zhou elite relied on ritual ceremonies to manage the relationships between man and heaven and people in general. Governed by the concept of "being morally worthy of the Mandate of heaven", the Zhou established political rules, ritual ceremonies, patriarchal ethics, laws and regulations, and moral values, which came to serve as models for generations to come. Even in modern-day customs, the influence of Zhou culture is still perceptible.


    After the King of Zhou overthrew the Shang dynasty, the concept of "being morally worthy of the Mandate of Heaven" was presented. The Shang were described as being morally bankrupt, resulting in the transfer of the Mandate of Heaven to Zhou. Therefore, morals were of prime importance in governance, and the Zhou were conscientious and careful in meting out punishment. The importance attached to de, or morals, is evident in many bronze engravings. De was used to regulate the rights and duties of each level of the hierarchy, and to maintain the relationships dictated by the patriarchal system of ethics.


    Ceremonies and music were systemized after the middle Western Zhou. Sets of bronze ding, gui, and li food vessels, differing in number according to rank, indicates a clear establishment of a feudal hierarchy. Titles and gifts bestowed by the King were important manifestations of personal status and family honor. The application of laws and regulations also differed according to patriarchal ethics.


    Western Zhou rites involved complex ceremonies and a variety of ritual vessels. Divination and music were adopted from the Shang, and the bi discs and gui tablets for summoning deities and spirites and worshipping gods of heaven and earth were developed by the Zhou themselves. Although oracle bone divination was influenced by the Shang, the Zhou had their own unique ways of drilling and rendering, and the numerically-shaped characters of the inscribed lines hint at the future development of the I Ching.


    Nobles had to wear various ornaments as a symbol of status and rank when attending important ceremonies, including ornate necklaces, artfully-designed bracelets and hand grips, and a variety of head ornaments, earrings, and ankle bracelets. The jade collection of the Duchess of Rui, created from more than a thousand pieces of jade, agate, and glass, is featured in this exhibition in its full entirety. These multicolored sets of strung ornaments were a potent symbol of the privileged status enjoyed by the aristocracy.


    Gift-giving and barter are frequently mentioned in bronze engravings, and comprise an important part of property transfer and economic activity in the Western Zhou. The terms of exchange also provide insight into the relative values of land, carriages and horses, clothes, and ornaments of that time.


    The craftsmanship of the Western Zhou dynasty holds an important place in the history of technology. Major advances were made in the production of bronze and proto-glass vessels, as well as the development of proto-porcelain. The bronze burning-lens, designed according to optical theory, was also a noteworthy achievement.

 Square bronze hu food vessel of Bo Gong Fu
(New window)  Bronze "Forty-second year" ding cauldron of Lai(New window)  Rectangular bronze zun wine vessel of Li
(New window)  Jade trapezoid pendant with strings of agate beads
(New window)  Bronze yi water vessel of Zhen
(New window)  Bronze gong wine vessel of Zhe
(New window)  Bone hairpin with phoenix
(New window)  Bronze burning lens
(New window)  Square bronze ding cauldron with amputee watchman(New window)  Jade bird(New window)