- Museum number
Bronze ritual vessel of the type known as gui. This vessel is composed of a large bowl/basin adorned by large handles and resting on a high ring foot. The bowl has an S-shaped profile. It has a major register of decoration that covers the bottom two thirds of the bowl consisting of dense vertical ribbing. Between the undecorated everted lip and the ribs is a narrower band which is decorated with alternating roundels and quatrefoils. The band is interrupted by a lesser version of the animal head that can be seen on the top of the handles at the front and back of the vessel. An identical band, this time without the central animal head, can be seen on the flared ring foot that ends in a short vertical moulding. The large handles are adorned by tusked animal heads with upright horns, swallowing birds whose beaks just emerge from their jaws. The lower part of the handles ends in a pendant which, just as the rest of the handle, is decorated with bird's wings, bodies and tails. An inscription was cast into the inside of the interior of the vessel.
- Production date
- 11thC BC
Height: 21.60 centimetres
Width: 42 centimetres
Depth: 26.80 centimetres
- Curator's comments
This vessel is famous for its inscription, which describes an attack on the Shang by the Zhou king and the establishment of the Kang Hou (sometimes entitled the Marquis of Kang) in Wei, near present-day Hui Xian in Henan province, where the vessel is said to have been found. It was cast by Mei Situ Yi, possibly in conjunction with the Kang Hou. The defeat of the Shang referred to in the inscription is not the initial Zhou conquest of the Shang but the suppression of rebellion occurred in the reign of Cheng Wang, the successor of the conqueror Wu Wang. A number of other vessels, including a cylindrical zun in the Burrell Collection in Glasgow, bear inscriptions that refer either to the Kang Hou or the Mei Situ Yi.
In addition to its great historical importance the Kang Hou gui is an imposing vessel. Its footring and large handles add dignity to decoration that on many other lesser vessels is almost routine. The handles consist of large tusked animal heads crowned by openwork upright horns, swallowing birds whose beaks just emerge from their jaws; below, the handles are decorated with birds' wings, bodies and tails.
The Zhou developed the Shang practice of inscribing vessels to record family achievements and honours, and inscribed vessels are still very highly prized. Inscriptions cast inside bronze ritual vessels are not merely vital historical documents; they are evidence of a new function, that of communicating the political and social achievements of their owners. The Zhou seem to have felt the need to proclaim their honours, not just among the contemporary members of their families, but in a wider context of past and future members of their clans. They were, after all, placing these inscriptions within ritual vessels in which food was offered to ancestors. Thus the ancestors could be expected to see the inscriptions as they accepted the food. Such inscriptions would also remain for the future generations to see, as the vessels were retained in temples. Vessels with long inscriptions were rarely buried in tombs, presumably because they were important historical documents.
The long-term effect of these inscriptions was immeasurable. They are the single most striking feature of the Zhou bronzes and were assiduously studied by later generations. The characters employed by the Zhou are essentially the same as those used in later centuries right up to the present day, and with little experience all later educated Chinese could learn to read them.
Michaelson & Portal 2006:
Bronze gui, known as Kang hou gui.
Early Western Zhou dynasty (1050-770 BC).
This gui is a ritual food vessel used in the rites for worshipping the ancestors. It has a high foot-ring and large handles of tusked animal heads with upright horns, swallowing birds whose beaks just emerge from their jaws; below the handles are decorated with birds' wings, bodies and tails.
This gui is famous for its inscription, which is written in the centre of the interior of the vessel and was intended to be seen by the ancestors for whom it was made. The inscription records a rebellion by remnants of the Shang and its successful defeat by the Zhou. It relates that the Zhou king Wu's brother, Kang Hou (Duke of Kang) and Mei Situ Yi were given territory in Wei (in Henan province) in recognition of their defeat of some Shang rebels. Such bronze inscriptions form very important historical records for this period.
- On display (G33/dc4b/s2)
- Exhibition history
2010-2011, London, BM/BBC, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2016 13 Feb-18 Jun, National Museum of Western Australia, Perth, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2016-2017 08 Sep-29 Jan, National Museum of Australia, Canberra, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2017 1 Mar-31 May, National Museum of China, Beijing, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2017 28 Jun-08 Oct, Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
- Acquisition date
- Registration number