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Decorative Designs in Chinese Art 中国文物的纹饰

Fire Design 火纹
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Xia Dynasty 夏朝

The Bronze Age in China started with the Xia Dynasty in about 2,100 BCE. Ancient Chinese literature refers to nine large bronze ding that were ordered to be cast by the founder of the Xia dynasty, Yu. They were later passed down in the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties but were lost when a ship carrying them sunk. There are relatively few historic records from the Xia dynasty and bronze ware is a key source of information about this period. Many archeological discoveries were made in Erlitou, thought to be the capital of the Xia dynasty.

a battle ax
Battle Ax with Inlaid Cross Decorations
Late Xia Dynasty (18th century — 16th century BCE), Shanghai Museum

Bronze ware artifacts were important possessions and indicators of social rank in the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties. One of the reasons that bronze ware is better preserved than other historic artifacts is corrosion resistant material property of bronze. In addition, bronze is tough enough to survive where pottery and other materials break. These artifacts from the Xia Dynasty, over three thousand years old, have survived well.

Bronze Ornament with Inlaid Turqoise
Erlitou Culture (1,750—1,530 BCE), Capital Museum, Beijing
Excavated from the Erlitou Ruins, City of Yanshi, Henan

Bronze was occasionally inlaid with gemstones, such as in the ornament above. However, most bronze ware at this stage was for vessels used in ceremonies that were central to the culture at this period. Jue , such as the shown below, are a kind of wine vessel and are among the most commonly discovered artifacts from the early Bronze Age.

ancient bronze wine holder
Ancient Bronze Wine Holder with Spout
Late Xia Dynasty (18th century — 16th century BCE), Shanghai Museum
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