Gui (vessel)

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Shang dynasty bronze gui Gefuding Gui.jpg
Shang dynasty bronze gui
Gui with four handles, a cover and a square base Yubo Square-based Gui with Four Handles.jpg
Gui with four handles, a cover and a square base
The "Kang Hou Gui", early Western Zhou (11th century BC). British Museum, London. British Museum Kang Hou Gui Front.jpg
The "Kang Hou Gui", early Western Zhou (11th century BC). British Museum, London.

A gui is a type of bowl-shaped ancient Chinese ritual bronze vessel used to hold offerings of food, probably mainly grain, for ancestral tombs. As with other shapes, the ritual bronzes followed early pottery versions for domestic use, and were recalled in later art in both metal, pottery, and sometimes stone. The shape changed somewhat over the centuries but constant characteristics are a circular form (seen from above), with a rounded, wide, profile or shape from the side, standing on a narrower rim or foot. There are usually two, or sometimes four, handles, and there may be a cover or a square base (or both).


The Kang Hou Gui, an 11th-century BC example in the British Museum was chosen as object 23 in the A History of the World in 100 Objects. [3]

The British Museum bowl inscription on the inside of the bowl tells that King Wu's brother, Kang Hou, who was the Duke of Kang and Mei Situ were given territory in Wei. The inscription relates a rebellion by remnants of the Shang, and its defeat by the Zhou, which helps us to date it. Because historians know exactly when this unsuccessful rebellion against the Zhou dynasty took place then the bowl can be dated very accurately. [4]

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The Shang dynasty, also historically known as the Yin dynasty, was the second dynasty of China, succeeding the semi-mythical Xia dynasty and followed by the Zhou dynasty. The Shang dynasty is the earliest dynasty of traditional Chinese history firmly supported by archaeological evidence. The Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project dated the dynasty's reign from c. 1600 BC to 1046 BC based on the carbon 14 dates of the Erligang site.

Chinese bronze inscriptions writing in a variety of Chinese scripts on Chinese ritual bronzes (e.g. zhōng bells, dǐng tripodal cauldrons) from the Shang dynasty to the Zhou dynasty and later

Chinese bronze inscriptions, also commonly referred to as bronze script or bronzeware script, are writing in a variety of Chinese scripts on ritual bronzes such as zhōng bells and dǐng tripodal cauldrons from the Shang dynasty to the Zhou dynasty and even later. Early bronze inscriptions were almost always cast, while later inscriptions were often engraved after the bronze was cast. The bronze inscriptions are one of the earliest scripts in the Chinese family of scripts, preceded by the oracle bone script.

Zun type of Chinese ritual bronze or ceramic wine vessel

The zun or yi, used until the Northern Song (960–1126) is a type of Chinese ritual bronze or ceramic wine vessel with a round or square vase-like form, sometimes in the shape of an animal, first appearing in the Shang dynasty. Used in religious ceremonies to hold wine, the zun has a wide lip to facilitate pouring. Vessels have been found in the shape of a dragon, an ox, a goose, and more. One notable zun is the He zun from the Western Zhou.

Fu Hao Queen consort

Fu Hao or Lady Hao, posthumous temple name Mu Xin (母辛), was one of the many wives of King Wu Ding of the Shang dynasty and, very unusually for China but not for that time, also served as a military general and high priestess. Minimal evidence detailing Fu Hao's life and military achievements survived the Shang Dynasty, as it preceded the invention of paper and the records may have perished over the course of time.

<i>Ding</i> (vessel) ancient Chinese cauldron, standing upon 3 or 4 legs with a lid and two facing handles

Ding (鼎) are prehistoric and ancient Chinese cauldrons, standing upon legs with a lid and two facing handles. They are one of the most important shapes used in Chinese ritual bronzes. They were made in two shapes: round vessels with three legs and rectangular ones with four, the latter often called fangding. They were used for cooking, storage, and ritual offerings to the gods or to ancestors. The earliest recovered examples are pre-Shang ceramic ding at the Erlitou site but they are better known from the Bronze Age, particularly after the Zhou deemphasized the ritual use of wine practiced by the Shang kings. Under the Zhou, the ding and the privilege to perform the associated rituals became symbols of authority. The number of permitted ding varied according to one's rank in the Chinese nobility: the Nine Ding of the Zhou kings were a symbol of their rule over all China but were lost by the first emperor, Shi Huangdi in the late 3rd century BCE. Subsequently, imperial authority was represented by the Heirloom Seal of the Realm, carved out of the sacred Heshibi; it was lost at some point during the Five Dynasties after the collapse of the Tang.

<i>Guang</i> (vessel)

A guang or gong is a particular shape used in Chinese art for vessels, originally made as Chinese ritual bronzes in the Shang dynasty, and sometimes later in Chinese porcelain. They are a type of ewer which was used for pouring rice wine at ritual banquets, and often deposited as grave goods in high-status burial. Examples of the shape may be described as ewers, ritual wine vessels, wine pourers and similar terms, though all of these terms are also used of a number of other shapes, especially the smaller tripod jue and the larger zun.

Tomb of Fu Hao Shang Dynasty royal tomb

The Tomb of Fu Hao is an archaeological site at Yinxu, the ruins of the ancient Shang dynasty capital Yin, within the modern city of Anyang in Henan Province, China. Discovered in 1976 by Zheng Zhenxiang, it was identified as the final resting place of the queen and military general Fu Hao, who died about 1200 BCE and was likely the Lady Hao inscribed on oracle bones by king Wu Ding and one of his many wives.

National Museum of China Art museum, history museum in Beijing

The National Museum of China flanks the eastern side of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. The museum's mission is to educate about the arts and history of China. It is directed by the Ministry of Culture of the People's Republic of China.

Chinese jade

Chinese jade refers to the jade mined or carved in China from the Neolithic onward. It is the primary hardstone of Chinese sculpture. Although deep and bright green jadeite is better known in Europe, for most of China's history, jade has come in a variety of colors and white "mutton-fat" nephrite was the most highly praised and prized. Native sources in Henan and along the Yangtze were exploited since prehistoric times and have largely been exhausted; most Chinese jade today is extracted from the northwestern province of Xinjiang.

Chinese ritual bronzes Chinese decorated vessels deposited as grave goods in the tombs of royalty and the nobility

Sets and individual examples of ritual bronzes survive from when they were made mainly during the Chinese Bronze Age. Ritual bronzes create quite an impression both due to their sophistication of design and manufacturing process, but also because of their remarkable durability. From around 1650 BCE, these elaborately decorated vessels were deposited as grave goods in the tombs of royalty and the nobility, and were evidently produced in very large numbers, with documented excavations finding over 200 pieces in a single royal tomb. They were produced for an individual or social group to use making in ritual offerings of food and drink to his or their ancestors and other deities or spirits. Such ceremonies generally took place in family temples or ceremonial halls over tombs. These ceremonies can be seen as ritual banquets in which both living and dead members of a family were to supposed participate. Details of these ritual ceremonies are preserved through early literary records. On the death of the owner of a ritual bronze, it would often be placed in his tomb, so that he could continue to pay his respects in the afterlife; other examples were cast specifically as grave goods. Indeed, many surviving examples have been excavated from graves.

A jue is a shape of Chinese ritual bronze, a tripod vessel or goblet used to serve warm wine. It was used for ceremonial purposes by the Chinese of the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties. Often the jue had a handle, sometimes in the shape of a dragon. It also has two protuberances on the top of the vessel, which were probably used when lifting the vessel out of heat. As with other shapes, the surface may be decorated with taotie.

Hu (vessel)

A hu is a type of wine vessel that has a pear-shaped cross-section. Its body swells and flares into a narrow neck, creating S-shaped profile. While it is similar to you vessel, hu usually has a longer body and neck. The shape of hu probably derives from its ceramic prototype prior to the Shang dynasty. They usually have handles on the top or rings attached to each side of neck. Many extant hu lack lids while those excavated in such tombs as Fu Hao's indicate that this type of vessel might be originally made with lids. Although it is more often to see hu having a circular body, there also appears hu in square and flat rectangular forms, called fang hu and bian hu in Chinese. In addition, hu often came to be found in a pair or in a set together with other types of vessels. As wine had played an important part in the Shang ritual, the hu vessel might be placed in the grave of an ancestor as part of ritual in order to ensure a good relationship with ancestor's spirit.

Jia (vessel) Chinese ritual vessel

A jia is a ritual vessel type found in both pottery and bronze forms; it was used to hold libations of wine for the veneration of ancestors. It was made either with four legs or in the form of a tripod and included two pillar-like protrusions on the rim that were possibly used to suspend the vessel over heat. The earliest evidence of the Jia vessel type appears during the Neolithic Period. It was a prominent form during the Shang and early Western Zhou dynasties, but had disappeared by the mid-Western Zhou.

Dui (vessel) type of Chinese ritual bronze vessel used in the late Zhou dynasty and the Warring States period of ancient China

A dui is a type of Chinese ritual bronze vessel used in the late Zhou dynasty and the Warring States period of ancient China. It was a food container used as a ritual vessel. Most Dui consist of two bowls supported on three legs.

Gu (vessel)

A gu is type of ancient Chinese ritual bronze vessel from the Shang and Zhou dynasties. It was used to drink wine or to offer ritual libations.

Ritual wine server (<i>guang</i>), Indianapolis ritual wine server

An elaborately decorated "ritual wine server" in the guang shape is a Chinese ritual bronze wine vessel, accession number 60.43, in the permanent Asian collection at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It dates to about 1100 BCE in the Shang dynasty period. The piece is currently on display in the Arthur R. & Frances D. Baxter Gallery of the museum.

Li <i>gui</i>

The Li gui is an ancient Chinese bronze sacrificial gui vessel cast by an early Zhou dynasty official named Li. It has the distinction of being the earliest Zhou bronze vessel to be discovered, the earliest record of metal being given as a gift by the king, one of only two vessels dateable to the reign of King Wu of Zhou to record personal names, and the only epigraphic evidence of the day of the Zhou conquest of Shang. This makes the Li gui highly important to the periodisation of the Shang and Zhou dynasties, and it has been described as bearing "the single most important inscription regarding the Zhou conquest of Shang."

Kang Hou gui Bronze vessel

The Kang Hou gui is a bronze vessel that is said to have been found near the city of Huixian, Henan province, central China. Dating to the Western Zhou period, this ancient Chinese artefact is famous for its inscription on the bottom of the interior. It has been part of the British Museum's Asian Collections since 1977.

Shu of Wey–Kang first ruler of Wey, a client state of Zhou dynasty

Shu Feng of Kang, also known as Shu of Wey–Kang or Kang Shu of Wey (衛康叔), given name Feng (封), Temple name Liezu (烈祖) was a Zhou dynasty feudal lord and the founder of the state of Wey. He was the ninth son of Ji Chang. Feng was also the full-brother of King Wu of Zhou, Duke of Zhou, Shu Zhenduo of Cao and Gao the Duke of Bi.

Yejiashan Cemetery is an ancient Western Zhou cemetery and archaeological site in Suizhou, Hubei, China. Extensive archaeological excavations at Yejiashan have uncovered 65 tombs and one horse pit, recovering over 700 artifacts including ceramic and proto-porcelain vessels, bronzes, and jades. Notably, some bronzes have inscriptions of “Zeng 曾”, “Hou 侯 (marquis)”, “Zeng Hou 曾侯 ”, “Zeng Hou Jian 曾侯谏 ”. This evidence, combined with the style of the other burial goods, suggests that Yejiashan Cemetery was the family cemetery of the Marquis of Zeng in the early Western Zhou Dynasty. Archaeological research at Yejiashan Cemetery has significantly bettered our understanding of the relationships between the Zeng, E (噩), and Chu states to the east of the Han River in the early Western Zhou.


  1. British Museum Collection
  2. British Museum Highlights
  3. "Chinese Zhou ritual vessel (gui)" at the British Museum, #23 of A History of the World in 100 Objects, accessed February 2012
  4. "Chinese Zhou ritual vessel" more from the BBC on the same Gui from the British Museum

Further reading