Brief Description Edit

HIST 2701 image

Shang Dynasty Ding. Tripod with 3 legs and 2 looped handles. Standing 22.7 centimeters tall and 18.4 cm wide. Used for ceremonial sacrifice and showed status/power (cite/link)

It’s a unicorn!This ding was found in modern day Anyang, China. It is made of bronze and was created around 11-13th century BCE. Created by Shang Dynasty craftsmen, it served a ceremonial purpose and represented the status of the owner. A staple in Shang and Zhou Dynasty culture, it now resides in Berlin, Germany at the Museum Huelsmann.

Technical Evaluation Edit

This artifact, formed with bronze mined in the surrounding areas using such tools as pulleys and impressive mine shaft construction (Childs-Johnson 170). After the ore is mined, it is then smelted and poured into a clay model. When all of the pieces have been shaped they are then assembled and given handles; this process is called piece-mold casting (See Fairbank pg. 9). The designs on this particular piece protrude from the sides, showing that the artwork was inscribed in the model, not on the resulting bronze ding (Fairbank 10).

Dings were often buried with their owners, which is most likely where this piece was found, or passed down. This particular ding is a part of the Klingenburg collection which was established between June of 1995 and May of 1996 (See Museum Huelsmann archive)t

Local Historical Context Edit

This artifact was created during the late Shang Dynasty, which is the first Chinese dynasty to have "both documentary and archaeological evidence," (See Encyclopedia Brittanica). Advances in warfare technology including bronze weapons and chariots allowed the Shang Dynasty to maintain supremacy over the region.

Without an exact date, it is impossible to know who the original owner of this ding was. Given the location where this artifact was found (near Anyang), it is reasonable to assume that it belonged to a person of wealth, most likely a king, after the capital had moved to Yin from the original capital of Shang (See Spice Digest). There were either 29 or 30 kings during the Shang Dynasty that, "was organized into a hierarchy, meaning that it had many levels of rank and many specialized functions and jobs, all passed down within a noble family," and was also hierarchical in the sense of social class (See Spice Digest). The Shang Dynasty was divided into four social ranks: The ruling family, the other nobles and their families, commoners, and slaves, although most commoners were treated quite like slaves but they could not be used for sacrifice (See Hollihan-Elliot, Wang). This means that the craftsmen that created this piece were not overwhelmingly wealthy, but they had a specialized skill that kept them away from the backbreaking labor that was required for agriculture and other slave labor tasks.

It is most likely that this piece was commissioned by a person of power to a local bronze craftsmen to be made for him. These pieces often, "carried brief inscriptions referring to the owner (a clan or individual) or object of the sacrifice—not a living person, but a deceased royal ancestor known by a posthumous title," (See Childs Johnson 166). Bronze was reserved strictly for ceremony and warfare in these times, so this piece was highly important to the culture due to the fact that their religion meant so much to them. Not only did it represent their religion and their beliefs, but the ownership of the ding portrayed the status and power of its possessor.

World-Historical Significance Edit

 Oracle bones have played a huge part in gathering information about how the citizens of the dynasty lived. These Oracle bones and writing on bronze artifacts such as this ding have played a key role in not only understanding what these objects were used for, but about the culture as a whole. The fact that only the wealthy could own items like this ding represents the overall stratification of the culture that eventually lead to its demise. The abuse of power by the rulers led to a discontent of the common people and, "the fierceness of the Shang ways became too extreme for acceptance as a basis for ongoing Chinese civilization. In the end, the dynasty was overthrown around 1045 b.c. by the more tolerant Zhou clan," (See Hollihan-Elliot, Wang).

The use of dings carried on into later dynasties including the Zhou Dynasty and even into the warring states period. Dings were so influential in ancient Chinese culture that the Shanghai Museum , arguably the best museum in China, was itself designed to resemble that of a ding, more specifically the Da Ke Ding, which is held inside the museum (See CNN Travel).

According to the authors of The Ancient History of China (2006): the Shang dynasty's highest accomplishment is its astonishing bronze ritual vessels, which some art connoisseurs consider the finest bronzes ever created. As stated above, they mastered the process of piece molding and even used an early form of an assembly line during production.

Bibliography Edit

Childs-Johnson, "Big Ding 鼎 and China Power: Divine Authority and Legitimacy"  -

Fairbank, "Piece-Mold Craftsmanship and Shang Bronze Design" -

Museum Huelsmann Archive -

Encyclopedia Britannica "Shang Dynasty" -

Hollihan-Elliot, Sheila, Wang, Jianwei "Ancient History of China Ch. 4" -

- CNN "12 best relics in the Shanghai Museum" -