Mathilde HK at Liang Yi Talks August Edition – 05 August 2014

You like Chinese History?
You like Archeology?
You want to know more about antique China?


Bronze Ritual Wine Vessel, Fanglei

Late Shang/Early Western Zhou dynasty 12th/11th century BC
(63.6 cm.) high

For the August edition, Ling Chiang, founder of Oi Ling Antiques gallery on 58 Hollywood road and creator of the Chinese Cultural Studies Center, introduced us to the antique Chinese bronzes of the Shang Dynasty (1600-1000BC). The famous art lover started working in Hong Kong as a teacher and quickly set up a workshop for antique furniture restoration. She became a huge specialist in ancient Chinese ritual vessels since. On that precise talk, Ling Chiang selected a piece which fetched a price record at Christie’s and is quite famous for its size and history: The “Min” Fanglei. Fanglei is the name given to ancient ritual vessels dedicated mainly to wine during the Shang dynasty, a dominant dynasty along the Yellow River, actually the earliest archaeologically recorded dynasty in Chinese History.

I heard about the talk from the Liang Yi Museum newsletter and I should say the public was much more local that time, gathering Chinese people and many more men than the previous July edition. The lecture was divided into two parts, one describing the Shang Bronze vessels and the piece at stake, the second one describing the founding sites and the archeological work of Chinese Historians in Hunan.

Antique Bronze Vessels in China

Our lecturer gave us some insight about traditional antique bronzes at that time. One has to know that each vases found in Hunan Tombs were signed and marked. Each piece bore inscriptions mentioning the name of the commissioner as well as the name of the person the Fanglei was dedicated to. While round shape vessels were quite common, square ceremonial vessels were to be made only for very high figures. The hierarchy of the tomb owner was given by the size, weight and shape of the vases buried with the dead: that is to say only the daughter or consort of the king, a famous counselor, or top-officials, would have large bronze dishes buried with them.

The King of the Fanglei

The Bronze vase called the ‘Min’ Fanglei was discovered by villagers at Qijiahe, Taoyuan County in Hunan Province, China, in 1922. Ling Chiang explained us the way the piece first occurred on the market. In 1922, as soon as people found out about excavations of ancient tombs and bronzes, an art dealer came to purchase the massive Fanglei piece. The villagers felt they could do more money out of it by separating the lid from the pot. They sold the pot to the dealer who felt the atmosphere quite uncertain and decided to run away while the villagers were deciding whether they should sale him the lid or not. In 1956, that Fanglei lid reappeared on display in the Hunan provincial Museum. The pot went still missing. In 1992, the former head curator of the Shanghai Museum recognized a huge bronze vessels deprived from its lid in Japan and try to acquire it. At least, in 2001, the original Bronze pot was sold at auction by Christie’s New York. An anonymous group of private collectors from China’s Hunan province has then offered to purchase the ‘Min’ Fanglei and donate this  bronze to the Hunan Provincial Museum in China. In 2014, the Fanglei went back to Hunan province Museum: it set a world record for any Asian work of art.

Dating Chinese Archaic bronzes

What I found the most interesting was the difficulty academics and art historians found to date such pieces. Is the Min Fanglei from the Shang or the Zhou period? from 1200 B.C. or from 700 B.C.? Although the inscriptions at the back of the Fanglei mention both tomb owner and vase maker, opinions are divided about the date of the signs. The pieces with high profile provenance are the most collected ones and our lecturer stressed the number of fakes in that era. She also mentioned the number of looted works of archeology in contemporary China and the will of the government to either acquire or protect the antique treasures of China.

Topics and Keywords:

Solo: topics to focus on

Archaic bronzes, Shang dynasty, Zhou dynasty, chinese antiquities, Fanglei,

Combo: on the same topic

Chinese Bronze department of HKU Museum

University Museum and Art Gallery
The University of Hong Kong
90 Bonham Road, Pokfulam, Hong Kong

Liang Yi Museum talks – August edition

“King of the Fanglei: A Bronze from the Shang Dynasty”
by Oi Ling Chiang
5th August, 7pm
free admission
Register at:


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