“Li” (Rites) is an important part of traditional Chinese culture, representing the ancient Chinese philosophers’ understanding of the order of heaven and earth and the harmony of all things in the process of transforming nature. The ritual systems formed over the long period of historical and cultural development are a concrete externalization and vivid embodiment of the spiritual connotations of rites. In addition, they are an important way to regulate social order, guiding each member of society to stick to their own duties and live together in harmony. The Shang and Zhou dynasties marked the critical period in the development of the traditional Chinese ritual system. The bronze wares-based vessels and grand solemn ceremonies are the most vital elements of the ritual system. As the primary bronze ritual vessels of the Shang and Zhou dynasties, bronze ding (food containers) not only reflect the status, rank, etiquette and culture of their owners, but also embody the political concepts, aesthetics and technological achievements of that era. They played a key role in the development of Chinese history and culture, and the inscriptions cast on the bronze ding have also become important material evidence of historical events and political systems.
Bronze ding first appeared in the Erlitou culture period. During the Shang and Zhou dynasties, Chinese bronzes shifted from focusing on drinking vessels to food vessels. The position of ding thus became increasingly prominent. During the Shang Dynasty and the early Western Zhou Dynasty, bronze ding became the most important ritual food vessels. The higher the rank of the nobility, the higher the quality of the bronze ding they would use. Following the mid-Western Zhou Dynasty, regulations on the usage of ding and gui (both food containers) during sacrificial ceremonies and feasts became more specific, with nine ding and eight gui for the King of Zhou, seven ding and six gui for the duke, five ding and four gui for senior officials, and three ding and two gui for junior officials. Bronze ding thus became a symbol of state power that integrated both the king’s power and divine power. The standardized system of using bronze ding served as an effective means to maintain the hierarchical order within the ruling class. Among the existing large bronze rounded ding of the Shang Dynasty, the “Zi Long” Bronze Ding collected in the National Museum of China is the largest. As for the large bronze ding of the Zhou Dynasty, the most prestigious are the “Yu” Bronze Ding collected in the National Museum of China, the “Ke” Bronze Ding collected in the Shanghai Museum, and the “Mao Gong” Bronze Ding collected in the Taipei Palace Museum.
The exhibition Rites of Harmony: Special Exhibition of Bronze Ding of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties is jointly held by the National Museum of China and the Shanghai Museum. Central to the exhibition are three large bronze rounded ding, namely the “Zi Long” Bronze Ding, the “Yu” Bronze Ding and the “Ke” Bronze Ding. With these specimens as the starting point, the exhibition seeks to display the rich cultural connotations of bronze ding and China’s profound traditional culture by exploring the traditional use of bronze ding, as well as their decorative patterns, inscriptions, craftsmanship and other features.
The “Yu” Bronze Ding, “Ke” Bronze Ding and “Zi Long” Bronze Ding on display in this exhibition are classic works of ancient Chinese bronze rounded ding and important material evidence of the splendid achievements of early Chinese civilization. In addition, their turbulent journey from excavation, circulation and repossession in modern times also fully testifies to the glorious journey of the Chinese nation toward rejuvenation. We sincerely hope that this exhibition will guide audiences to gain a deeper understanding of the rich ritual culture of the ancient Chinese system of using bronze ding, further strengthen their cultural confidence, and gather great strength for developing a strong socialist culture in China and realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.