Symbolical Ornaments Used In The Decoration Of Chinese Bronzes

On handles of sacred vessels the eyes or head of a lynx are admonitory of reverence, and is a decoration very often used. Vases with three feet have allusion to the three stars which are supposed to preside over Prince, Ministers, and People. Vases with four feet are in honor of the four higher civil officers. Those decorated with clouds and thunder are supposed to have been originally given by the Prince for agricultural merit. Vases inscribed with words such as hog, ox, sheep, etc., were given as a reward to persons successful in raising these animals. Vases presented to the literati were of iron; those to ministers of state, of fine copper; those to nobles or used by the Emperor were of gold.

In the religion of the Chinese the worship of their ancestors forms a very important feature, and vases which commemorated their virtues were handed down from generation to generation and guarded with religious devotion. It was the custom in these remote times for the Emperor in worshipping to use nine vessels ; a nobleman seven, a minister five, and a literati three. In more recent times it has been customary for the Emperor to send an inferior vase with the word Keen (rectitude) inscribed upon it, as an admonition to an offending minister whose offence was not so great as to merit death. Vases are seen with the word Tsze (meaning ” son “) inscribed upon them, and authorities differ as to its meaning; some affirm it was a surname in the Shang dynasty, others say it meant the vase was to descend from son to son. These vases from the style of the character Tsze seem to be anterior to 1105 B. C. Some vases, from the inscription upon them, are supposed to have been intended for use at different seasons of the year, such as Kang (mature), which refers to autumn; Kioli, an astronomical character, which refers to the period when fruits are ripe.

The Egyptian scroll is a very favorite form of decoration ; there are also a curious series of twisting intricate curves varying in design, but bearing general resemblance to a human face, which are called by the Chinese Haou-teen, or voracious eating, and are intended as an admonition against gluttony. Vases given for military prowess are distinguished by a figure holding a weapon in his hand, by a tiger, or by the double Chinese word Kungs, meaning ” bows.”

In ancient times the days were divided into male and female, or hard and soft days. Thus marriage or domestic ceremonies were performed on soft days, whereas military ceremonies and the like on hard days ; thus the word Jow (soft),.or Kang (hard), is found upon vases which were used accordingly. It is recorded that anciently fish were offered to the moon in winter, and there exist vases of the Shang dynasty inscribed with a moon, fish and altar. Vases with the word Ting (tripod) upon them were very highly esteemed. The Chinese always call the handles ears. Animals’ heads on the handles of drinking cups were admonitory of temperate drinking. A rhinoceros’ head on a vase was an admonitory sign. The She-King, in denouncing the crimes of one of his ministers, says : ” Give him the Rhinoceros’ cup.”