Chinese Zhou ritual vessel (gui)

China, early Western Zhou dynasty, 11th century BC

A gui was a ritual vessel for food offerings, used in the Shang and throughout the Zhou period in China.

In 1050 BC, King Wu established the Zhou dynasty, having conquered the Shang dynasty (about 1500-1050 BC). Long inscriptions in bronze vessels tell of this conquest and subsequent events.

Such long inscriptions were cast only occasionally in bronzes during the Shang period, but this practice was greatly expanded by the Zhou. Inscriptions cast in bronzes served to communicate the political and social achievements of the vessels' owners. Today, they are vital historical documents.

The inscription inside this imposing vessel tells that King Wu's brother, Kang Hou (Duke of Kang) and Mei Situ were given territory in Wei (in Henan province) in recognition of their contributions. The inscription relates a rebellion by remnants of the Shang, and its successful defeat by the Zhou, which helps us to date it.

Ancient China


The period we know of as ancient China runs from around 10,000 BC to about 221 BC.

Ancient China world culture

Western Zhou dynasty



Chinese Zhou
ritual vessel

Listen now

Related products


A History of the World in 100 objects

By Neil MacGregor

Accompanies the BBC Radio 4 series

Object details

Height: 23 cm
Width: 42 cm
Depth: 26.8 cm


Asia OA 1977.4-4.1

Room 33: Asia


    J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of China (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

    J. Rawson, Chinese bronzes: art and ritual (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    L. Von Falkenhausen, Chinese Society in the Age of Confucius (1000-250 B.C.) (Los Angeles, 2006)

    C. Hsu, and K. Linduff, Western Chou Civilization (New Haven 1988)

    E.L. Shaughnessy, Sources of Western Zhou History: Inscribed Bronze Vessels (Berkeley, 1992)

    R. Thorp, China in the Early Bronze Age: Shang Civilization (Philadelphia, 2005)

    W.P. Yetts, An Early Chou Bronze, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, 70 (1937), 409

    C. Kuang-yüan, A study of the Kang-hou gui, Oriental Art, XXVII (1981), 3