Casting the Treasured Calligraphy: A New Approach to the Bronze Inscriptions of the Western Zhou Period (1045 - 771 B.C.)
A seminar with Li Feng (Columbia University) in the New Approaches to Chinese Studies series.
Friday, November 18, 2005
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
This talk will systematically address the issue of using calligraphy to study Western Zhou bronze inscriptions, using actual examples. Such study can offer important insights into the background of the creation of bronze inscriptions, and clarify in a unique way their social context as well as ritual uses. A large part of the talk will focus on what the methodology can reveal about the organization of the newly discovered inscriptions from Meixian, in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi, particularly the 43rd-year Lai ding (a ritual cooking vessel).
Li Feng is assistant professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University. Professor Li did undergraduate work at Northwestern University in Xi'an and graduate work at the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, at Tokyo University, and at Seton Hall. He completed his Ph.D. in 2000 at the University of Chicago and has taught at Columbia since 2001.
Professor Li's scholarly focus is Western Zhou history. His recent publications include "Feudalism and Western Zhou China: A Criticism," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (2003); and "Literacy Crossing Cultural Borders: Evidence from the Bronze Inscriptions of the Western Zhou Period (1045-771 B.C.)," Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (2004). Professor Li is now working on a book manuscript on the bureaucratic structures of the Western Zhou government.
Purpose of the New Approaches to Chinese Studies series: The series New Approaches to Chinese Studies presents lectures and seminars by scholars, primarily recent Ph.D.s, who are doing cutting-edge research which may not yet have seen the light of day through publication. The series aims to provide speakers with an opportunity to present their scholarship in greater depth than is usually possible in a one-hour talk. The New Approaches to Chinese Studies series sees as its prime target audience graduate students; one of its goals is to give them a sense of perspective on life after the Ph.D., and to provide them, in a sense, with role models.
On the Meixian Discovery
The following report on the Meixian discovery, which has been described as one of the top ten archaeological discoveries in China in 2003, is taken from china. org.cn
On January 19, 2003 some laborers from Yangjia Village in Shaanxi Province inadvertently uncovered a cellar containing twenty-seven priceless bronze vessels dating back some 3,000 years.
When the province's archaeological departments excavated the cellar and some 300 square meters around it, they found sixteen tombs (five of the Western Zhou Dynasty and the others pre-Zhou), one chariot pit and one horse pit.
The bronzeware cellar is composed of a rectangular pit together with a near circular niche. The pit measures 4.7 meters north to south and 2.5 meters east to west. It had originally been dug 2.5 meters deep but over the ages it had become buried deeper and deeper. When excavated, the bottom of the pit was no less than seven meters below today's ground level. To the south lies the niche, 1.1 meters deep and having a diameter of 1.6 to 1.8 meters. The gap between them was sealed up with rammed earth. It was in this niche that twenty-seven well-preserved bronze vessels were found.
The bronze vessels belonged to the Shan clan, an official family that enjoyed high status in the Western Zhou dynasty. Never before have so many bronzeware items of this degree of archaeological interest, attributable to a single family, been uncovered together. What is more, every one carries an inscription to enrich the historical records surviving from these times.
Most striking is a bronze plate bearing a 350-word inscription. This is longer than any inscription found on any vessel excavated since 1949. Taken together the finds provide the clan with a written historical record running to no fewer than 4,048 words. This is unprecedented for the period. Most of the vessels are magnificent artifacts in their own right and have been much appreciated for their design quality.
Of great significance to broadening an understanding of these far off days are the twelve bronze ding (cooking vessels with two loop handles and three or four legs) for each bears a rare 300-word inscription. These records, kept safe in bronze down all these years, are unique for they list eleven of the twelve Western Zhou dynasty kings. Only King You, the last of his dynasty is not included. What's more, the inscriptions record the parallel relationships between eight generations of the Shan clan and the twelve Western Zhou kings. Not only do they put dates on the Western Zhou but they are also proving valuable in establishing a timeline for the Bronze Age of the Western Zhou dynasty and the chronology of the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties. Meanwhile the inscriptions have been providing important reference materials for understanding the clan history of the Shan family and the relationship between the Zhou dynasty and northwest ethnic groups.
Further excavations outside the cellar have been adding background information to aid the study of these bronze treasures.
The New Approaches Series is made possible by a generous gift from
the Sammy Yukuan Lee Foundation
For more information please contact
Tel: (310) 825-8683
Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies