Chinese Galleries at the British Museum

While J looked at Egyptian stuff in the British Museum on our most recent trip to London I took the camera & went and looked at the Chinese Galleries again. The right hand side of the room is laid out chronologically so I started here with the Neolithic period. Even that early jade was still an important and symbolic material for the Chinese.

Jade Hair OrnamentJade DragonCeremonial Jade Axe

The Shang Dynasty is the next period in Chinese history, moving into the Bronze Age – it was during this time that writing was invented in China, and the tradition of using bronze ritual vessels to offer food and drink to the ancestors was started. These vessels were based on the shapes of Neolithic pottery vessels.

Jade Spearhead with Turquoise Inlaid Bronze FittingsCarved Antler & IvoryBronze Ritual Food VesselBronze Ritual Food VesselBronze Chariot FittingsBronze Chariot FittingsBronze Chariot FittingsBronze Ritual Wine VesselBronze Ritual Vessel

The Zhou conquered the lands ruled by the Shang – they kept many of the same traditions, including the bronze vessels and the writing system. During this period it was fashionable to inscribe your bronze vessels with a historical note about when the vessel was made or entered the family, which is invaluable to later historians. It was intended at the time to be a historical document, these vessels weren’t buried with the dead they were kept by the living. The latter part of this period was known as the Warring States period, and is immediately before the unification of China under the First Emperor. Confucious lived during this time and his ideal of harmony and service to the state was developed with the backdrop of war between the various Chinese states.

Bronze Ritual Water BasinBronze Ritual Vessel Inscription Inside a Bronze Ritual VesselDragon Handle to a Ritual VesselBronze Bell Sword Blade, With InscriptionChariot Fitting in the Shape of a Bulls HeadBronze Fittings from a Crossbow

As well as items from China proper the museum has things from the area around China as well. These two plaques are from nomadic tribes from the region that’s now Mongolia, and show evidence of Middle Eastern influences in their designs:

A Horse Being Attacked By a TigerTwo Winged Horses

The First Emperor’s Dynasty consisted solely of himself, and after his death there was a brief period of civil war before the Han Dynasty took over and ruled for about 400 years. These are the rulers who were featured in the exhibition we went to at the Fitzwilliam Museum earlier this month. Their court was very opulent and rich – lots of fine gilt objects.

Gilt Bronze Dragon Shaped Furniture StandsGilt Bronze Rearing BeastGilt Bronze FinialChariot Parasol FittingBelt HooksBelt Hook

And I think next time I go to the museum I need to start over again with this next section and make a bit more sense of it! I have photos of a couple of things from the sort of time when Buddhism spread into China, displacing Confucianism as the primary religion, but that’s all between the end of the Han & the start of the Tang Dynasty and I think that means I’ve missed some stuff as that’s quite a long period of time (4 centuries or so). I am rather fond of the Tang pottery, with its distinctive bright colours and stylish designs.

Yue Ware Water VesselMoulded Plaque of the BuddhaPottery Tomb GuardianPottery Tomb GuardianTang Dynasty PotteryTang Dynasty PotteryTang Dynasty PotteryTang Dynasty PotteryTang Dynasty PotteryLiao Dynasty PotteryLion Supporting a Tray

And after that we get into the time when the Chinese developed porcelain. And also some gorgeous purple and green dishes, called Jun Ware.

Early PorcelainEarly PorcelainJun WareJun WareJun Ware

Pictures are, as always, on flickr – click through to see larger versions 🙂