國立故宮博物院 National Palace Museum (New window)  
Title: Bronzes and Jade Objects

In the Anthology of the Songs of Chu, Wang Yi of the Eastern Han (date unknown) noted that "the so-called appearance of gold [i.e. bronzes] and nature of jade are incomparable for a hundred generations, and their names last endlessly and never ruined." Bronzes and jade objects, as symbols of power and status of noble culture and as curiosities cherished by literati, are monumental rarities of Chinese cultural relics.

From all the accepted bronzes and jade objects, including 411 pieces of bronzes, 826 of jade objects, and 1,489 of copper coins, the fine articles are selected for this exhibit to reveal the spirit of Chinese literati.

The selected items, diverse in formats, date from the Neolithic period to the Qing dynasty and cover various regions of Asia.  One may appreciate a stone chisel of the Majiabang culture at the mouth of the Yangtzi River, jade ornaments of the Beinan culture in Taiwan, a hilt with jade handle of the Mughal Empire, and bronze Buddhist statues from the regions of Northeastern, Southeastern, and Southern Asia.  Among all the donations of cultural relics, moreover, some priceless articles are the focus of attention; they are, bronze jue vessel dating to the Erligang period of the Shang (1600-1400 B.C.E.), a bronze ding cauldron with cicada pattern of the Western Zhou (1046-771 B.C.E.), and one of the most valuable historical archives, bound tablets for the Shan sacrifices to the earth by Emperor Xuan-Zong (712-756). All these artifacts demonstrate the donors' delight of sharing cultural possessions with others.

Bronze Jue vessel with animal mask pattern (New window)

Bronze Jue vessel with animal mask pattern
Er-li-gang Period of Shang Dynasty

Donated by Mr. Chang Chin-lien
Zheng-Tong-000039

This vessel is narrow with a pointed tail, its twin-column stubby and stand at the junction to the spout; the inner rim is cast with a metallic ring for reinforcement, creating a stair-like pattern; the upper abdominal wall is slightly inclined and draws inwards tightly; the lower abdomen protrudes, and the flat base displays clear marks of smoking. Three cone-shaped feet are connected to the flat base, the feet tilting slightly outwards, with flat-shaped gilting on the waist. A narrow strip of animal-face pattern in intaglio decorates the waist of the vessel. This is a typical product of the Er-li-gang Period.

Many scholars and much literature speculate at the exact purpose of such bronze "jue" vessel, and there is disagreement as to whether these vessels are used for drinking or for warming wine. There is also disagreement as to the purpose of the twin-column, but no school of thought has yet been able to produce convincing proof of its opinion. These vessels are now generically referred to as "three-footed bronze jue", a name first given and adopted in Song Dynasty. The structures of the word "jue" in oracle-script and zhou-jin-script are consistent with the shape of the bronze jue we see today; therefore scholars of antiquities do accept that this kind of wine vessels should be referred to as"jue" vessels. In 1976 a pair of late Western Zhou "bo-gong-fu-jue" was excavated in Zhouyuan, Shanxi. They were oval in shape, supported by rounded feet, with a flat and bent handle. On the vessels were self-annotated the name "jue", and they stated their purposes as being for "offering, tasting, enjoying, and filial piety". These are the only bronze vessels self-entitled "jue" to date.

The three-footed bronze jue is the earliest bronze wine vessel to appear during the Xia Culture; by mid-Western Zhou it was no longer used as bronze ceremonial vessels. Were the jue-shaped and self-entitled vessels a part of the long evolution of wine vessels, or merely a fragment of the past? This is a question for further study.

Bronze Ding cauldron with cicada pattern (New window)

Bronze Ding cauldron with cicada pattern
Western Chou Period

Donated by Mr. Chiang Ting-wen
Zheng-Tong-000004

This cauldron has upright ears tilting slightly outwards, puffed abdomen, three columned feet, with the largest diameter at the center of the cauldron. A strip of intersecting kui-pattern and jiong-pattern decorates the lower part of the rim, followed by triangular cicadas pattern. There is no annotation on the cauldron. The shape and patterning of this cauldron are both classical of the late Yin and Shan Periods to early Western Zhou Period. As the body of the cauldron is slightly rounded, similar to the early bronze cauldrons from Western Zhou excavated from M1:1 Yaojiahe, Lingtai in Ganshu, this cauldron has been dated early Western Zhou.

Cauldrons are used as cooking vessels as well as food containers. From the many self-entitled cauldrons, we are able to deduce that cauldrons are used for a number of purposes: for ceremonial worship, for entertaining, for weddings, and also for cooking various kinds of meats, vegetables and spices. The Eastern Zhou people had even produced cauldrons designated for cooking soup (boiling water).  Bronze cauldrons can also be categorized by their shapes: pots, cans, cauldrons, plates, cauldrons with narrow waist and flat base, square cauldrons and so on. This particular cauldron and its patterning are both finely made, and can be said to be one of the cauldron masterpieces.

Gilt bronze mirror with animal pattern (New window)

Gilt bronze mirror with animal pattern
Han Dynasty

Donated by Mr. Peng Kai-dong
Zheng-Tong-000342

This gilt bronze mirror has round buttons, the button bases decorated with a four-leafed pattern; airy-cloud pattern decorate the areas between the button bases, and a broad strip pattern separate them from the main pattern. The main pattern section is divided into eight areas by the octagonal star. With the star pattern at the center, winding dragon patterns surround the perimeter, as if eight small mirrors circle the mirror buttons. In the eight areas, the craftsman has inserted auspicious cloud and animal patterns such as feathered man, blue dragon, white tiger, red phoenix, unicorn, blue goat and airy-clouds. Triangular bent patterns surround the outer edge of the main pattern section, and the above areas are gilted to give the impression of elaborate elegance. At the perimeter of the mirror, the broad band pattern contains a band of zhuan-script annotations in an unusual arrangement, the clockwise and anti-clockwise annotations meeting at the center.

Anti-clockwise: "An official walking in the way of the Heavens will look and feel gladness."

Clockwise: "Obey the cycles of the sun and the moon, always keeping the Emperor's will on your mind. This will guarantee the security of your line."

This kind of multiple bird and animal patterned mirrors can be combinations of five to eight stars, depending on size of the mirror, and were popular during the late Western Han to late Eastern Han Periods. The eight-star mirror is one of the larger pieces, and the most glorious. The "Hereditary Seven-Stars Four-Gods Mirror" excavated from the Annan countryside in Shansi in 1964 is similar to this particular mirror in patterning and arrangement, and can be dated to around late Western Han to Xinmang. Both probably came from the same period of time.

Gilt bronze Amitayus Buddha (New window)

Gilt bronze Amitayus Buddha
9th Year of Taiho reign in Northern Wei Period

Donated by Mr. Peng Kai-dong
Zheng-Tong-000123

The hair of the Buddha is made into a bun, separated at the center; His face rounded, with almond-eyes, high nose, long ears, and the trace of a smile at the lips. He wears a long monk cloak with a round collar, the folds flowing naturally from the shoulders to the breast; the folds at the back of left shoulder and the left sleeve slightly wavy. He is holding his right hand before his chest in the gesture of fearlessness; the left hand raised to the height of the elbow and is holding the lapel before the abdomen. The Buddha stands upon a lotus seat, which is placed upon a four-footed square seat. Triangular pattern decorates the upper rim of the square seat; the four feet are carved with a vow comprised of 44 characters: "In the 9th year of Taihe reign during yi-niu year, February of shu-wu…. Made one statue of Amitayus Buddha."

The circular light radiating from the head and the boat-shaped light radiating from the back are melted to the statue. The light from the head comprises of two layers: inner rays, and outer layer decorated with lotus-petal pattern. The light from the back comprises of three layers: plain rays near the body of the Buddha ornamented with a twisting pattern; a fire pattern decorates the top of the boat-shaped rays on the second layer; and the outer most layer of boat-shaped rays is sharp on the top and flat on the base, decorated with roiling fire patterns. The figure of the standing Bodhisattva wearing a crown and holding a cleansing vase is carved to the back of the back light.

The name "Amitayus Buddha" originates from Sanskrit, and this Buddha is most symbolic of the mercy of immeasurable light that offers salvation from all torment. The making of statues of the Amitayus Buddha first became popular during mid-Northern Wei Period, and reached its peak during the Sui and Tang Dynasties.

Jade pi disc (New window)

Jade pi disc
Warring States Period to Han Dynasty

Donated by Mr. Chi Hsing-fu and Chang Chen-fang couple
Zheng-Yu-000301

This jade piece is green in color, semi-transparent, flat and circular in shape. The inner and outer perimeters are slightly raised, with a plain band as decoration. The entire piece is decorated with a lying silkworm pattern on both sides, and the craftsmanship is extremely fine.

The jade pi disc is one of the five auspicious gifts referred to in the "Rites of Zhou", and has been very important since its first appearance in the Neolithic Age. During the Eastern Zhou Period it was held by noblemen during meetings with the emperor, consultations, banquets and ceremonial worship. It was also a popular burial item for noblemen.

During the Neolithic Age, Chinese jade wares developed in three main systems due to regional characteristics: northern jade, central jade (including eastern and northwestern areas), and southern jade. Zong, pi, guan and pei forms of jade wares developed in the south, and large numbers of jade pi disc, zong and clothing accessories has been discovered through scientific archaeology at the Shixia Culture site in Chujiang, Guangdong. Large numbers of jade pi disc have also been discovered at the Liangzhu Culture site in the Taihu area in Yuhang, downstream of the Yantze River. The green jade pi disc recently found in Anxi Village of Yuhang is carved with illustrations and texts on both sides, a representative of the mysterious aesthetics of the jade pi disc. The decorative pattern on the jade pi disc exhibited here was one of the most popular patterns adopted since the Eastern Zhou Period.

Bound tablets for the Shan sacrifices to the earth by Emperor Hsuan-tsung (New window)

Bound tablets for the Shan sacrifices to the earth by Emperor Hsuan-tsung
13th Year of Kaiyuan in Hsuan-tsung reign of Tang Dynasty

Donated by Madam Liu Mu-hsia, spouse of General Ma Hung-kuei
Zheng-Yu-000003

The bound tablets comprised of 15 tablets in white marble; a hole has been drilled horizontally through the top and lower ends of each tablets, so that they can be linked up with metallic wire. Five tablets are linked up to form one set, and there are a total of three sets. Each tablet is carved with one line of characters in clerical script, and there is a total of 115 characters to the prayer of worship carved on these tablets. This particular set of jade tablets was buried by the Emperor Hsuan-tsung (Li Longji) of Tang Dynasty in the 13th year of Kaiyuan reign, at the foot of Sheshou Mountain in the Taishan Ranges (now called Gaoli Mountain). As there is no record of this set of tablets either in the new or old versions of "Records of Tang" or other historical document, its existence is particularly significant for supplementing the lack of historical records.

In "Historical Records: Fengshan" it was written: "An earthen altar is built atop Taishan in worship of the heavens, and to report meritorious events to the gods. This is called 'feng'" and "Land is cleared on the hill at the foot of Taishan to report meritorious events to the earth. This is called 'shan'". At the beginning of time, the ancients were full of caution and respect for heaven and earth, and it was the norm to worship the heavens and earth in various forms. Taishigong had cited the words of Guanzi: "According to Guanzong: There were 72 families that worshipped at Taishan in the ancient times, and 12 were recorded by the King Yiwu." In archaeology we have also found remains of temples and altars at the Red Mountain Culture site of Neolithic Age, remains of altars at the Lianzhu Culture site, and ceramic tablets at the Dawenkou Culture site in Lingyang River of Juxian. All of these ancients had worshipped the heavens and earth. The term "fengshan" had probably originated from the scholars of the Eastern Zhou Period, and "fengshan" implemented by the Qin Emperor and Emperor Hanwu were probably mixed with the emperors' selfish longing to obtain immortality. Since the first Qin Emperor implemented "fengshan" at Taishan, the practice was criticized by the literati and involved complicated political situations; nonetheless six other emperors from subsequent dynasties still visited Taishan to carry out the "fengshan" ceremony, the practice only ending during the first year in the reign of Song Zhenzong. The Emperor Qianlong had criticized "fengshan" as being a practice "to fool oneself and to fool others, a laughable event in the historical records"; however, he himself had visited Taishan ten times during the 13th to 55th year of his reign to carry out ceremonies of worship. Is this not an indication that the idea of paying respect to the heavens and earth is already deep in our psyche?

Soft stone statue of Avalokiteśvara(New window)

Soft stone statue of Avalokiteśvara
Qing Dynasty

Donated by Mr. Huang Chun-pi
Zheng-Yu-000324

This statue shows Avalokiteśvara sitting with the left leg crossed, the right knee raised, the right holding prayer beads and hugging the left knee, the left hand embracing the knee, the head slightly tilted and gazing into the great infinity. These characteristics indicate that it is a statue of the "Anu Avalokiteśvara" that is one of the 33 forms of Avalokiteśvara, a translation from Sanskrit that means "incomparable excellence". It is said that: "Anu" refers to the "Anuta Pond", and according to the "Great Tang Records on the Western Regions", this pond was apparently located at the center of Zhanbuzhou. Bodhisattva of the eighth level had used her powers to transform into a dragon king and had lived in the pond, giving rise to the name. For this reason both "Pu-Men-Ping" and "Fa-Yuan-Zhu-Lin" had referred to Avalokiteśvara as one of the goddesses of water sources, with the powers to take care of the rivers and seas, saving the drowning and able to relieve people from disasters. Many literati since the Jin and Tang Dynasties enjoyed placing statues of Avalokiteśvara in their studies; some even surround statues of gods with smoke to pray for betterment of their literary prowess.

This statue is made from ross quartz and adopts the circular carving method in producing the appearance of Avalokiteśvara. Ross quartz comes from the Shoushan rock ranges, and the mine was located in Yueliang-Jialiang Mountain of Shoushan Village, north of Fuzhou in Fujian Province. Shoushan rocks are used for stone sculptures, and archaeologists have found circularly carved "Pig Lying Down" in a Southern Dynasty tomb, while a large number of simple figurines, birds and animal forms have also been found in Song Dynasty tombs in the Fuzhou area. After the Yuan and Ming Dynasties, the literati often used shoushan stones to make seals.  From then on stone wares made from shoushan rock formally entered the literati studies, and became treasured items atop the desks of the literati.

Hilt with jade handle (New window)

Hilt with jade handle
Late 17th Century to 18th Century AD

Donated by spouse of Mr. Yeh Po-wen
Zheng-Yu-000826

The top of the hilt is made in a curling, nubbled shape, in a V-angle to the blade of the dagger. The entire piece is carved from white jade, decorated with patterns of flowers and leaves in relief. The iron blade is sharpened on both sides, the tip of the blade slightly raised like a scimitar. The scabbard is made from thin wood and decorated with crimson velvet, the spine decorated with metallic wire. The rim and tip of the scabbard are made in white jade with flower and leaves pattern; the white jade rim near the handle is carved with a slightly raised ring, which can be used to tie a fringe.

This kind of dagger was fashionable in Persia and India, and was the sabre customarily carried by the Islamic noblemen. Amongst the Islamic jade wares in the National Palace Museum collection, the forms of the top of the sword can also be animal-head shapes or flower and leaf shapes.

Due to the strong Turkic and Mongolian kinship in the Mogul royal bloodline, we can see the influence of the grasslands culture on this kind of jade-handled daggers. Ordos bronze weapons were common in the central and southern parts of Inner Mongolia, Shanxi and noth of Xiaxi, the west, south and north of Yenshan, Ganshu, and eastern parts of Qinghai during the period equivalent to Shang-Zhou Dynasties of China (15th Century BC to ~7th Century AD). The bell-headed dagger with curled handle, animal-headed dagger with curled handle, scimitar with bell head, and scimitar with animal head are all connected to the dagger with white jade and nubbled, curling handle exhibited here.