Abstract

abstract:

A new generation of scholars has called into question the homogeneous nature of Western Zhou culture and the sweeping imposition of this culture over a large region that covers much of present-day China. Our study contributes to this debate by focusing on a coherent group of bronze vessels dated to the end of the Western Zhou and beginning of the Spring and Autumn periods. He (盉) vessels with drum-shaped bodies, bird-like lids, and human-like legs are among the most unique and artistically innovative artifacts of this period. While these unique artifacts have been found in and near the center of the Western Zhou polity, they are not associated with the rituals of the royal house, but rather with those of other aristocratic lineages. We argue that the artistic style of the vessels was part of the culture developed around the royal Zhou house and in areas close to it, although it is not strictly representative of the royal culture of the Western Zhou, being instead associated with minor lineages. A multi-dimensional analysis of this group of vessels, addressing their geographical distribution, location within their archaeological context, and social associations, combined with an analysis of their decorative scheme and the inscriptions cast inside them, enables us to better understand the sociocultural landscape of this period. Our study suggests that diversity existed not only in remote border areas or among the lower strata of society, but also within the cultural core of the Western Zhou polity and among the highest echelons of the aristocracy. Such processes of diversification are associated with the development of local and regional identities and with the growth of the political independence of aristocratic lineages during the final years of the transition from the Western Zhou to the Spring and Autumn periods.

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