Datecirca 12th-17th century
DimensionsWork : 14 5/8 x 10 1/16 x 10 1/16 in. (37.15 x 25.56 x 25.56 cm)
Credit LineGift of Risa and Chris Engle in honor of Maiya and Leah
LabelThe Chinese term li means ritual but more broadly refers to the behaviors and protocols that people use to maintain social, political and religious order. During the Shang and Zhou dynasties (ca. 1600-221 BCE), political rulers as well as many individual families regularly performed ritual ceremonies to honor Heaven (tian) and their ancestors, as well as to reinforce social bonds and political alliances. They conducted these rituals using sets of elaborately decorated bronze vessels, which—because bronze was also used to mint currency and make weapons—symbolized their wealth and power. Although ritual practices changed during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220CE), people continued to revere the ancient bronze vessel forms and used them as cultural status symbols throughout the imperial period. Interest in these vessels was especially great during times of instability when China was threatened by external foes or internal conflicts.