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Joyce Gallery Ltd
Archaic Chinese Bronzes: Lost Treasures of a Golden Age
Ms Joyce Liang of Joyce Gallery Ltd. is a veteran antique dealer and collector, and she has a strong passion for Chinese archaic bronzes. With her sound knowledge on the subject, she will tell us more in this interview.

According to Joyce, there are only a limited number of authentic archaic bronzes in the market. Unlike ceramics, jades, paintings and all the other categories of Chinese art, archaic bronzes seldom appear in auctions. The lack of an open resale channel may scare off some local collectors, but Joyce said, there are still many buyers who look for bronzes directly from antique dealers. These buyers are mainly private collectors and long term investors from Mainland China, Taiwan, Europe and the United States, as well as some leading museums and galleries in the world. Important museums in China, like the National Museum of China, the Shanghai Museum and the Beijing Poly Art Museum also have plans to purchase archaic Chinese bronzes in recent years.

Ms Joyce Liang, Joyce Gallery Ltd.

In fact, archaic bronzes had been regarded as national treasures by the royal court and the scholar-officials ever since the Song Dynasty (960-1279). For instance, Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty (r.1101-1126) and Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (r.1736-1795), who were renowned for their excellent aesthetic tastes, possessed thousands of ritual bronze artifacts from the Shang and the Zhou dynasties in their private collections. These bronzes truly reflect the state-of-the-art technology of the Shang and the Zhou dynasties, the golden age that has been praised by Confucianism for over two millennium. They affirm the social, political, economic, military, technological, religious and artistic achievements of ancient China, and reveals a glorious past in early Chinese civilization.

Xia (c.2100-1600 B.C.), Shang (c.1600-1046 B.C.), Western Zhou (c.1046-771 B.C.), Spring and Autumn (771-476 B.C.), and Warring States (475-221 B.C.), which lasted for nearly two thousand years, are regarded as the Bronze Age of China. Although bronze was widely used in other ancient civilizations, only China had filled it with a rich spiritual context by creating various forms and sets of ritual bronze vessels. It is a splendor of ancient civilization, an art masterpiece in world art history.

Bronze was named ‘jin’ (literally means ‘gold’) in the Shang and the Zhou dynasties, and it was an extremely precious metal to the state. It is much more difficult to cast a bronze vessel than to produce a pottery or a jade piece at that time. In addition to ingenuity and endless creativity of craftsmen, bronze craftsmanship required a thorough understanding of alloying techniques, as well as lots of efforts in mining and smelting of metals including copper, tin and lead beforehand.

Owing to the complicated production process and the need of enormous social resources, bronzes were used to indicate the owner’s status in ancient China. For instance, there were restrictions on using bronze tripod ‘Ding’ for different classes, i.e. the king might use nine ‘dings’, nobles seven and premier officials five. The hierarchy and the authority of the Chinese feudal society were built up and reflected through the use of ritual bronze artifacts.

The inscriptions on bronzes are important sources for research. These writings from over three thousand years ago documented activities of the ruling class, such as honoring titles by the king, appointing duties to key officials, memorizing ancestors, trading of lands and more, that help historians to piece together an important era in Chinese history. The calligraphy of bronze inscription has high artistic values as well.

In Chinese art history, terracotta figures were used to bury with the dead, ceramics were for daily use and appreciation, but archaic bronzes were mainly used as the highest standards of ritual vessels and musical instruments in ‘the most important event of a state’ ﹣ritual ceremonies that praised the founding of a nation, a tribe or a family. Ritual vessels and musical instruments were the essence of Chinese archaic bronzes. They are important cultural heritage in the history of world civilizations.

Chinese bronze culture is a field that worth further studying. With the rapid growth of Chinese economy and the continuous enhancement of antique collectors’ knowledge, Joyce believes that archaic Chinese bronze, as an extremely undervalued category in the art market, is an ideal choice to collect and invest.


Bronze ware of Western Zhou Dynasty.
It is a ritual vessel used by the nobles

Bronze ware of Shang dynasty

Bronze inscriptions are important messages from the past



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