Square lidded ritual ewer (fanghe) with taotie

Ceremonial vessel, type huo. Decorations incised and in low relief. Smooth gray-green patina. Inside the cover, an inscription of fifty characters, of which the last four are repeated in an inscription outside on the body under the handle. 50-character inscription.

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Historical period(s)
Early Western Zhou dynasty, ca. 1050-975 BCE
H x W x D: 22.3 x 21 x 14.1 cm (8 3/4 x 8 1/4 x 5 9/16 in)
China, Henan province, Luoyang
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Metalwork, Vessel

Ritual vessel: fanghe

China, inscription, mask, taotie, Western Zhou dynasty (ca. 1050 - 771 BCE)

Possibly excavated at Luoyang, Henan Province, China, in 1928. [1]

Tonying and Company, New York to 1933. [2]

From 1933
Freer Gallery of Art, purchased from Tonying and Company, New York in 1933. [3]


[1] See Curatorial Remark 2, A.G.W., 1944, in the object record. See also, Curatorial Remark 7, Keith Wilson, March 2009, in the object record.

[2] Curatorial Remark 1 in the object record.

[3] See note 2.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Tonying and Company established 1902


Ceremonial vessel, type huo. Decorations incised and in low relief. Smooth gray-green patina. Inside the cover, an inscription of fifty characters, of which the last four are repeated in an inscription outside on the body under the handle. 50-character inscription.


1. (From original folder sheet note 2) (A.G.W., 1944) This huo is one of a group of nineteen bronze vessels bearing the name Ch'en-ch'en [chn], and said to have been discovered at Lo-yang [chn], Honan province, in 1928. One of these vessels, a yu, which is quite different in execution, bears the same inscription as this huo, while the remainder of the inscriptions varies in one way or another. This group of signed vessels accordingly is known as the Ch'en-ch'en group. Interconnected with this group by the mention of names in their various inscriptions were twelve other bronzes which are recognized as part of the Ch'en-ch'en group. (See Jung Keng, Shang chou i ch'i t'ung k'ao [chn] vol. 1, pp. 44, 45, 387). The total find discovered at the same time appears to have amounted to some thirty-five vessels, and these include our fang i (30.54), with its long and different inscriptions. The marked epigraphical similarities in the inscriptions plus the fact that these bronzes appear to have been discovered together suggests that all are of approximately the same date. This makes the group as a whole extremely important not only on account of the inscriptions, but also on account of the considerable differences in types of decorative technique on the various vessels of the Ch'en-ch'en group, as well as on the others. Thus, if we may date two such differently conceived vessels as our fang i (30.54) and this huo as of approximately the time of Ch'eng Want, a considerable change must be forthcoming in methods of dating on stylistic grounds alone.

Two inscriptions appear on the huo, one inside the cover, and the other under the handle. The cover inscription is composed of fifty characters arranged in six columns. That under the handle has four characters recording the name of the scribe, Ch'en-ch'en which also occurs at the end of the cover inscription. These inscriptions have been ably discussed by Jung Keng (Liu T'i-chin [chn]. Shan chai i ch'i t'u lu [chn]. Illustrated catalogue of bronzes in the Liu collection, compiled by Jung Keng [chn]. 3 pen. Peking, 1936. Vol. 3, p. 29a-b), Kuo Mojo (Liang chou chin wen tz'u ta hsi k'ao shin [chn]. Studies on inscriptions on Chou dynasty bronzes. Rev. ed. 3 pen. Tokyo, 1935. Vol. 1, p. 32a-b), and Kuo Ting-t'ang (Ch'en chen huo k'ao ming shih [chn]. Study of the inscription on the Ch'en ch'en huo. In Yen ching hsueh pao [chn], Yenching Journal of Chinese Studies, Peiping. Vol. 9, (1931) 1739-1744.), and the following rendition of the cover inscription into modern characters is based on their findings.


In this inscription there are four characters which may be open to question, and on the rendition of which complete agreement has not been reached. A [chn], the last character in the first column is considered by Kuo Ting-t'ang, Kuo Mo-jo and Jung Keng as a verb, while Lo Chen-yu, discussing its occurrence in another inscription (Lo Chen-yu, Nieh i k'ao shih [chn]. A study of the Nieh i. In Liao chu tsa chu [chn], 2 pen, 1930. Also published in Shinagaku (Sinology), Kyoto, vol. V, no. iii, 1929, where the cover carries the English title, A Research Into.) Reads it as an unidentified name. This character written in the same manner occurs on at least five bronzes including this huo and our fang i, and if it is a name it offers further proof of a close connection in time between these vessels. It also occurs in a slightly variant form on two other bronze vessels (Jung Keng, Chin wen pien [chn], I, chap. 2, p. 26b). Among the above mentioned five vessels is a chih bearing a seven-character inscription in which the character in question is obviously a name (Lo Ch'en-yu [chn], San tai chi chin wen ts'un [chn], Chap. 14, p. 55a). Also the context of the fang i inscription seems less strained if the character is so taken.

The context of the inscription in this huo admits of its being either a verb or a name, but however this may be the epigraphical similarities of the two inscriptions bracket them closely in time. B [chn], the first character in column four has been identified with the characters shang [chn] and erh [chn], and the former identification seems the most likely. Indeed both Jung Keng and Kuo Mo-jo agree on this point. C [chn], the fourth character in column four is generally conceded to be yin [chn], although Kuo Mo-jo disagrees with this and says it is huang [chn]. Here again Jung Keng's list of both characters as they appear on bronzes (Jung Keng, Chin wen pien [chn]. Inscriptions on bronzes. 2nd ed. rev. and enl. 5 pen, Ch'ang-sha, 1939, Vol. IV, chap. 13, p. 15; chap. 14, p. 26), really leaves both choices open, but perhaps the former is best. D [chn], the last character in column four has not been identified, but it is generally agreed that its meaning is something like that of li[chn] or shang [chn], and it certainly seems to indicate some sort of ceremonial operation.

The sense of the inscription is clear and, with the above possible divergences in mind, may be rendered as follows:

"Now in year when the King made a great yo ceremony at Tsung-chou A entertained him [or, he, (the King) went and lodged] at P'ang-ching. In the fifth month, the third quarter on the day hsin yu the King commanded the Prime Minister and the Annalist Yin to convene at Ch'eng Chou, and D [offer?] pork for the hundred officials, and bestow a yu, aromatic wine, and cowries to be used to make for Father Kuei a precious sacral vessel.
Recorded by Ch'en-ch'en, Hsien."

The yo [chn] ceremony mentioned in the inscription appears to have been one of four seasonal ceremonies in honor of the ancestors, and took place in the summer (Biot, E.: Le Tcheou-li, Vol. I, p. 422, and Ch'ien Tien: Chou Li [chn]. The Administrative and Ritual Code of the Chou dynasty; probably constituted about the fourth century B.C. commentaries by Cheng hsuan (127-200 A.D.) and Chia Kung-yen (seventh century). 6 pen, n.d., p. 8b). This ceremony is also mentioned in the Book of Poetry (Legge, J.: <u<The Chinese Classics. 5 vols. in 8 vols. Vols. III-V, Hong-kong, 1865-72. Vols. I-II rev. Oxford, 1893-95, Vol. IV, pt. 2, p. 257).

Tsung-Chou is well known as an honorific designation for the Chou capital Hao [chn] established by the first Chou King, Wu Wang [chn], while P'ang-Chign has been identified with Feng [chn], the capital of Wen Wang [chn]. The two places probably were situated only a few miles apart in modern Shensi province south of Hsi-an Fu. According to the Annals of the Bamboo books, Ch'eng Chou was established in the 5th year of the reign of Ch'eng Wang [chn] (Legge, J.: The Chinese Classics, Vol. III, pt. 1, p. 145). It was located near Lo-yang in Honan, where this vessel is said to have been found.

As in the case of our fang i (30.54) there has been a divergence of opinion as to the date of this vessel. Wu ch'i-ch'ang, using the San t'ung li calendar, dated this vessel the 17th day of the 5th moon of the 11th year of Chao Wang (1044 B.C.). (Wu Ch'i-ch'ang [chn]. Chin wen li shuo su cheng [chn]. Studies on the dates of bronzes of the Chou dynasty. 5 pen, Shanghai, 1936, chapt. 6, p. 25b). Kuo Mo-jo, however, believes it to be of Ch'eng Wang date (loc. cit), and Jung Keng now agrees with him, listing it with our fang i among ninety-one vessels of the time of Ch'eng Wang (see 30.54). As noted in discussing the latter bronze, all ninety-one vessels seem to be interconnected by the mention in their inscriptions of the names of persons, places, events, and, or by circumstances of discovery, etc. In this connection, it should be pointed out that the bronze heading Jung Keng's list of ninety-one bears an inscription which begins: "Now when Ch'eng Wang made a great [rite] at Tsung Chou..." (see 30.54). This recalls the beginning of the inscription on this huo, "Now in the year when the King made a great yo ceremony at Tsung Chou...." It seems quite possible that these two inscriptions may refer to the same event.


The eyes, brows, horns, ears, snout, mouth, and legs of the taotie on the surface of this pitcher can be difficult to identify at first glance. This archaistic style of decoration might have been purposefully chosen to recall ancient times, but the practice of casting lengthy commemorative inscriptions was a recent innovation. The full inscription records events surrounding a royal gift of wine and cowry shells, and the last four characters name a family or a clan group that apparently served as court scribes or chroniclers. Since at least three other known bronze vessels bear the same inscription, this fanghe was likely part of a wine set created at the same time.

Published References
  • Luo Zhenyu. Liao chu tsa chu: Miscellaneous writings during my residence in Liao. vol. 1: pp. 1-4.
  • Sheng-wu Yu. Chi chin wen hsuan [On Bronze Inscriptions]. Peiping. .
  • Wu Qichang. Chin wen li shuo shu cheng [Studies on the Dates of Bronzes of the Chou Dynasty]. 2 vols., Shanghai. .
  • Shang Chou chin wen shi ch'eng. Multi-volume, Taipei. cat. 4854.
  • Keng Jung. Shang chou i ch'i t'ung k'ao: Researches in Ceremonial Vessels of the Shang and Chou Dynasties. Peiping. vol. 2: pl. 251.
  • Keng Jung, Chang Wei. Yin Chou ch'ing t'ung ch'i t'ung lun [A Survey of Shang-Chou Bronzes]. Peking. cat. 119.
  • Chin wen tsung chi. Taipei. vol. 6: p. 2480.
  • Chen Mengjia. Yin Zhou qing tong qi fen lei tu lu [Yin-Chou ch'ing t'ung ch'i fen lei t'u lu]. 2 vols., Dongjing. vol. 2: A 331.
  • Hsu-lun Ma. Ling Nieh i: The Ling Nieh bronze vessel of the type "i". vol. 4, no. 1 Beijing. pp. 1-4.
  • Grace Dunham Guest, Archibald Gibson Wenley. Annotated Outlines of the History of Chinese Arts. Washington, 1949. p. 3.
  • Moruo Guo. Liang Chou chin wen tzu ta hsi tu lu kao shih: Inscriptions on bronzes of the Chou period. Tokyo. p. 5.
  • Lan T'ang. Tso ts'e Ling tsun chi tso ts'e ling i ming k'ao shih: A study of the inscriptions of the "tsun" of the scribe Ling and the "i" of the scribe Ling. vol. 4, no. 1 Beijing. pp. 21-29.
  • Keng Jung. Shan chai i ch'i t'u lu [Illustrated Catalogue of Bronzes in the Collection of Liu T'i-chih]. Chinese texts and studies 3 vols., Peking. pp. 29, 34ff, pl. 107.
  • Compiled by the staff of the Freer Gallery of Art. A Descriptive and Illustrative Catalogue of Chinese Bronzes: Acquired During the Administration of John Ellerton Lodge. Oriental Studies Series, no. 3 Washington, 1946. p. 50, pl. 23.
  • W. A C. H. Dobson. Early Archaic Chinese: A Descriptive Grammar. Toronto. pp. 202-204.
  • Dr. John Alexander Pope, Rutherford John Gettens, James Cahill, Noel Barnard. The Freer Chinese Bronzes. Oriental Studies Series, vol. 1, no. 7 Washington. cat. 41, p. 233.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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