Ritual grain server (gui) with taotie and dragons

Ritual bronze vessel of the type kuei having four massive handles surmounted by horned bovine heads with dependent winged bodies.

Historical period(s)
Early Western Zhou dynasty, ca. 1045 BCE
H x W x D: 23 x 37.6 x 37 cm (9 1/16 x 14 13/16 x 14 9/16 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Metalwork, Vessel

Ritual vessel: gui

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

Excavated at Liangshan in Shouzhang xian, Shandong province, China, in mid-19th century [1]

Zhong Yangtian (Zhong Yanpei) collection, Jining, Shandong province [2]

Li Zongdai (active 1849-1896) collection [3]

Pulun (1869-1925/27) collection [4]

Huang Jun (1880-1952) collection [5]

Possibly Ding collection, Weixian, Shandong province [6]

To 1915
Marcel Bing (1875-1920), Paris, France [7]

1915 to 1959
Eugene Meyer (1875-1959) and Agnes E. Meyer (1887-1970), Washington, DC and Mt. Kisco, NY, purchased from Marcel Bing through C. T. Loo, Lai Yuan & Co., New York in December 1915 [8]

1959 to 1961
Agnes E. Meyer inherited upon the death of her husband, Eugene Meyer on July 17, 1959 [9]

From 1961
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer, 1961 [10]


[1] The gui is said to be one of seven bronze vessels unearthed in Shouzhang xian. For the discussion of the circumstances of the discovery of these vessels and their subsequent ownership history see Thomas Lawton, "A Group of Early Western Chou Period Bronze Vessels," Ars Orientalis vol. 10 (1975), pp. 111-121. According to Lawton, the earliest known dated reference to the vessels is provided by Xu Zonggan (1796-1866), in Jizhou jinshi zhi, 1845 (the preface is dated September 24, 1843). Alternative date for the discovery of the bronzes is provided by Fang Junyi (died 1899), in Zhuiyizhai yiqi kaoshi (completed 1894, published 1935). Fang states that the vessels (he lists only six bronzes, including the Freer gui) had been found at Shouzhang xian during the Xianfeng period (1851-61), see Lawton 1975, p. 116. Rong Geng (1894-1983) records that six vessels, including the Freer gui, were found at Shouzhang during the Daoguang period (1821-50), see Rong Geng, Shang Zhou yiqi tongkao (Beijing: Hafo Yanjing xueshe, 1941), vol. 1, p. 340, vol. 2, pl. 152, no. 281.

[2] Xu Zonggan states that the group of seven vessels had been acquired "recently" by Zhong Yangtian, see Xu Zonggan, Jizhou jinshi zhi (Nantong: Privately published, 1845), as cited by Lawton 1971, pp. 111-112. See also Chen Mengjia (1911-1966), "Xi Zhou tongqi duandai" (Chronology of Western Chou Bronze Vessels), part 2, in Kaogu xuebao 10 (December 1955), p. 96, as cited by Lawton 1975, p. 114, n. 13.

[3] According to Chen Mengjia, Li Zongdai (active 1849-1896) succeeded Zhong Yangtian as the owner of the vessel, see Chen Mengjia 1955, p. 96, as cited by Lawton 1975, p. 114, n. 13.

[4] Pulun (1869-1925/27) was a fifth-generation descendant of the Qianlong Emperor (reigned 1735-96), and the first son of Zaizhi (1839-1880), see Chen Mengjia 1955, p. 96, as cited by Lawton 1975, p. 114, n. 13.

[5] The bronze was reproduced in Huang Jun (1880-1952), Zunguzhai suojian jijin tu (Beiping: Zunguzhai, 1936), vol. 2, p. 7a.

[6] See C. T. Loo, Lai-Yuan & Co.'s invoice issued to Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Meyer, dated December 10, 1915, copy in object file. According to a note on the invoice, the vessel came from "Collection Ting of Wei-Shien," copy in object file.

[7] Bing's ownership is documented in the invoice cited in note 6 and is further documented in several locations, including: : November 11, 1915 letter from Marcel Bing to Charles Lang Freer; letters from December 10 and 15 from Eugene Meyer to Charles Lang Freer; telegrams exchanged between Marcel Bing, Charles Lang Freer, and Eugene Meyer dating from November 15 to December 5, 1915; February 2, 1916 letter from Charles Lang Freer to Marcel Bing. Copies of aforementioned documents in object file.

[8] Eugene Meyer, Agnes E. Meyer, and Charles Lang Freer negotiated with Marcel Bing to arrange a joint purchase of Bing's collection of 11 Chinese bronzes and 1 jade. See correspondence cited in note 2. The Meyers and Freer decided to divide the collection - Meyers acquiring 5 bronzes (including this object) and Freer acquiring 6 bronzes in addition to the jade -- and the price, calculating each party's payment was based on the appraisal values assigned to each piece. The Meyers ultimately sent the entire payment to C. T. Loo, Lai Yuan & Company (sometimes spelled Lai-Yuan), who in turn wired money to Bing. Lai Yuan & Company received a consigners fee from Bing. Meyers made the payment in early December 1915, with Freer paying the Meyers for the objects destined for his collection on December 14, 1915. All the objects included in this large sale, which were originally divided between the Meyers and Freer, are now in the museum's collection ( F1915.102; F1915.03a-b; F1915.104; F1915.105; F1915.106a-f; F1915.107; F1915.108; F1961.30a-b; F1961.32a-b; F1968.28; F1968.29). For a full explanation of the joint endeavor between the Meyers and Freer, see: Dorota Chudzicka, "'In Love at First Sight Completely, Hopelessly, and Forever with Chinese Art': The Eugene and Agnes Meyer Collection of Chinese Art at the Freer Gallery of Art" in Collections Vol. 10, No. 3 (Summer 2004), 334-335 and Thomas Lawton and Linda Merrill, Freer: A Legacy of Art (Washington DC: Freer Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 1993), pp. 220-221, 223, 226.

Shortly after the purchase, the Meyers lent the bronze to an exhibition in Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1916, see S. C. Bosch Reitz, Catalogue of an Exhibition of Early Chinese Pottery and Sculpture, exh. cat. (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1916), cat. 335 (ill.).

[9] Eugene Meyer died in Washington D.C. on July 17, 1959. Upon his death, his wife, Agnes E. Meyer inherited the entirety of the couple's collection.

[10] See Agnes E. Meyer's Deed of Gift, dated December 21, 1961, copy in object file.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Ding collection
Zhong Yangtian
Li Zongdai active (1849-1896)
Pulun 1874-1927
Marcel Bing 1875-1920
Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer (1875-1959) and (1887-1970)
C.T. Loo 1880-1957
Huang Jun 1888-1944
Lai-Yuan 1908-ca. 1915


Ritual bronze vessel of the type kuei having four massive handles surmounted by horned bovine heads with dependent winged bodies.


1. Although a number of questions still remain regarding the interpretation of several characters in the inscription, the general meaning is clear. It is generally agreed that the king mentioned in the inscription is Ch'eng Wang [Ch], while the T'ai-pao [Ch] refers to Shih [Ch], the Duke of Shao [Ch], brother of the Duke of Chou [Ch]. The Duke of Shao held the office of T'ai-pao during the reign of his nephew, Ch'eng Wang, and it is possible that he had served in the same capacity under his brother, Wu Wang [Ch].
A translation of the thirty-four character inscription might read: [Ch] "The King undertook a punitive expedition against Sheng [Ch], Lord of Lu [Ch], who had rebelled. The King charged the T'ai-pao with the order to attack. The T'ai-pao reverently obeyed, and could not disagree. The King received the T'ai-pao and graciously granted him the land of Hsu [Ch]. The T'ai-pao uses this vessel to record the King's charge."
Kuo Mo-jo [Ch], Liang Chou chin-wen tz'u-ta hsi k'ao-shih [Ch], 27a, points out that [Ch] is the ancient form of the character [Ch]. The editors of Zenbunshu relate Lu-tzu Sheng [Ch] to Lu-fu [Ch], son of Chou [Ch], last Shang ruler, whom Wu Wang made prince over the domain of Yin so that he might continue the ritual sacrifices. Wu Wang also assigned three of his brothers: Kuan-shu [Ch] (Hsien [Ch]), Ts'ai-shu [Ch] (Tu [Ch]) and Ho-shu [Ch] (Chu [Ch]) to the domain as a safeguard against rebellion. These three brothers were known as the San-chien [Ch]. Soon after the death of Wu Wang, they joined Lu-fu in a conspiracy to overthrow the new dynasty. In the conflict that followed, the Duke of Chou and his younger brother, the Duke of Shao, crushed the insurrectionary movement. Both Lu-fu and Kuan-shu were executed. The editors of Zenbunshu believe this is the punitive expedition referred to in the T'ai-pao kuei. Ch'en Meng-chia, on the other hand, suggests the Lu mentioned in the inscription may have been in the south.
Interpretation of the four characters [Ch] remains a problem. Kuo Mo-jo (ibid) believes the character [Ch] should be [Ch], and there is general agreement with his reading. Loehr renders the phrase, "Der Grossprotektor siegte; {des Belegten} Ergebenheit {war fortan} untadelig." This seems needlessly involved. The compound [Ch] does appear in the Shu-ching [Ch] ([Ch] 31; Legge III, 507): [Ch] "If you cannot reverently realize the harmony." Again in [Ch] 24; Legge III, 452: [Ch] ....[Ch], "If you can reverently obey....cannot reverently obey."
The character [Ch] is translated as "at the instigation" by Dobson. Loehr renders it as "empfing", which seems more suitable. The editors of Zenbunshu interpret it as meaning the King "went in person" to reward the T'ai=pao.
Kuo Mo-jo (ibid) takes hsiu [Ch] to be the personal name of the recipient of the King's charge. Ch'en Meng-chia reads this hsiu as "grace", "favor", and makes the T'ai-pao recipient of the charge. This seems to accord with the general tone of the inscription.
Ch'en Meng-chia inserts the character [Ch] after the character [Ch] in the final phrase of the inscription. There seems no compelling reason for the addition; it makes the reading of the last five characters somewhat awkward.
The elaborate handles of the kuei resemble those on the K'ang-hou kuei [Ch], now in the Malcolm collection. The exaggerated plastic treatment of the t'ao-t'ieh mask, as well as the contents of the inscription, would indicate that the T'ai-pao kuei should date during the early years of the reign of Ch'eng Wang (1024-1005 B.C.).

2. (T. Lawton, 1976) Added word Western after Early, late 11th century.


Richly decorated bronze containers were used in ritual banquets to honor ancestors. This gui, cast with an inscription acknowledging the Taibao’s role in suppressing a rebellion that threatened the very existence of the royal house, would have been a family treasure for generations.

Based on events chronicled in the inscription inside the container, this is one of the earliest dateable bronzes from the Zhou dynasty:

"The king attacked Luzi Sheng and suppressed his rebellion. The king sent down the campaign command to the Taibao who was respectful and free of error. The king immortalized the Taibao, granting him lands at Song. [The Taibao] uses this vessel to respond to the command."

Published References
  • William Watson. The Art of Dynastic China. New York, 1981. cat. 243.
  • Sigisbert Chrétien Bosch Reitz. Catalogue of an Exhibition of Early Chinese Pottery and Sculpture. Exh. cat. New York. fig. 335.
  • Masterpieces of Chinese and Japanese Art: Freer Gallery of Art handbook. Washington, 1976. p. 12.
  • Thomas Lawton. Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Memorial Exhibition. Exh. cat. Washington, 1971. cat. 8, pp. 16-17.
  • Shou Chen. Ta Pao kuei ti fu ch'u ho Ta Pao chu ch'i. no. 4. cat. 2, pp. 23-30, 26.
  • Thomas Lawton. A Group of Early Western Chou Period Bronze Vessels. vol. 10, 1975. pp. 111-121, fig. 1.
  • Thomas Lawton, Linda Merrill. Freer: a legacy of art. Washington and New York, 1993. p. 227, fig. 160.
  • Dorota Chudzicka. In Love at First Sight Completely, Hopelessly, and Forever with Chinese Art: The Eugene and Agnes Meyer Collection of Chinese Art at the Freer Gallery of Art. vol. 10, no. 3, Summer 2004. pp. 334-335.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
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