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Liu Yang. Qin Bronze: From Symbolic Art to the Quest for Realism

As an independent state rose from the western frontier, cultural attitudes of the Qin during the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 BCE) were very much in accordance with mainstream Western Zhou (c. 1046-771 BCE) systems; this is particularly reflected in the use of ritual bronze during this period.

In the Western Zhou dynasty, ritual and ceremony were considered crucial to the maintenance of order. Fundamental to that order was the recognition of hierarchy: from the heavens to the king; from the courts to the people. Ceremonies and sacrifices were performed to maintain this order and to acknowledge the powers invested in those levels of hierarchy. It was in service of this system that the enormous and imaginative range of bronze vessels characteristic of this period were made. Such objects were also placed in the tombs and burials of rulers and nobility, with the number and style of accoutrements strictly regulated in accordance with the deceased’s rank in the hierarchy. These furnishings – in particular, vessels used for food and drink – were intended to support and sustain the deceased in the afterlife. Liu Yang shows that the idea of recreating, albeit in symbolic form, the earthly life within the tomb was a crucial part of this quest for immortality. 

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