The principle that lies beneath the main aspects of Chinese culture - harmonious balance - can be seen in its various art forms. A symbolic element utilize in Chinese sacrificial bronzes three thousand years ago that mixes all types of beast characteristics found in the natural world into one horrifying creature, the t'ao-t'ieh , or ``animal of gluttony.'' Placed in a dangerously blazing fire, the beast's protruding eyes stared straight at the viewer; its big mouth open in a wicked grin, flashing sword-like teeth. His dagger claws were exposed and marked by balance for action, and a pair of ears or horns protruded from his head. Ferocious a sight as it was, it appear mysterious and beautiful. The t'ao-t'ieh design is one among the fantastic and innovative designs found among Chinese bronze architectures. It obviously transports the religious and divine spirit of ancient Chinese bronze vessels to the minds of viewers. Bronze is an alloy of copper, tin, and a small amount of lead. Its appearance signaled the advancement in human culture from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age. For the approximately 2,000 years between the 17th century B.C. up until the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-200 A.D.), the Chinese people used rare and precious bronze to cast large quantities of ritual vessels, musical instruments, and weapons that were elegant in form, finely decorated, and clearly inscribed with Chinese characters. They affirm the artistic achievement of ancient China, and demonstrate how early Chinese used their ingenuity to create works incorporating both science and art from resources in nature.
In the religious society of historical China, bronze was used mainly for the casting of ceremonial temple utensils used in prayers to the heavenly Gods, earth, the mountains, and rivers. They were also utilized in vessels for banquets, award functions, and funerals for the upper caste. Since bronze is a durable metal which is highly resistant to snapping and breakage, it was mainly utilized by kings to cast engraved vessels honoring the ancestors of nobles, kings, and ministers who had made a notable contribution to their country or sovereign, to provide a model and reminder for coming generations. The world-renowned Mo Kung Ting, for instance, a tripod made of bronze displayed at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, was imperially accredited. On the inside of tripod is an engraving four hundred and ninety seven characters in length, further divided into thirty two lines and two halves, beginning from the mouth of the vessel to the bottom inside. The engraving is the imperial document for the casting of the vessel, engraved in a baronial and powerful way. The engraving on this particular vessel is the longest among bronze materials that have been excavated so far.
Bronze things found in china can be grouped into four main categories, based on function: food containers, wine containers, water containers, and musical devices. Within each kind, numerous variations were found in mode and design, fully exhibiting the rich innovativeness and creativity of the Chinese people of the time. The kuei, for instance, was a vessel for cooked cereal that came in many different shapes, similar to today's vessels for cooked rice. Some had a circular bottom to balance the container belly; others had a huge square bottom augmented onto the circle shaped bottom, in a graceful contrast of geometrical form. The ting was a tripod container utilized for cooking uses, with a pair of knobs attached to the mouth to help handling of the vessels (Needham, 1986). The 3 legs bound the vessel at just the proper distance from the fire for preparing meat. The cheh was a vessel particularly made for heating and drinking wine; it had a pour spout and side handles. The three legs facilitated warming the wine. The tsun was an important type of wine container that was either circular or square shape, or had a circular mouth and square base. Ancient Chinese bronzes displayed balance and symmetry of form, and transcended peace and ceremony.
In majority of the line designs utilized on bronzes, a main motif mixed with a bordering design, displaying its three-dimensional character. The ``beast of gluttony'' design discussed earlier was the most important in Shang Dynasty containers. A side view of two separate symmetrical animals was brocaded on the vessel; when seen together from the front portion, they joined their features into one animal. After the Western Chou period (11th century B.C. to 771 B.C.), bird designs gradually came to be used for decorative main designs, still maintaining the principle of symmetry. After the mid and late Western Chou period, chain link patterns, fish scale patterns, and wave patterns for the most part superseded animals as subject matter for the main design of bronze vessels. The principle of symmetry began at this point to be broken, and substituted by repeating chain link or band designs that encircled the vessel body. After the mid-Spring and autumn period the most commonly used design was a vertically meshing geometrical animal band design. In the Shang Dynasty, the border figure used to complement the main figure was usually clouds and lightning. Starting in the mid-Western Chou, the designs became mostly spare, and border designs were finally neglected. After the spring and autumn times, the ``sprouting grain'' and other designs started to be seen in borders (China: A Teaching Workbook, 2009).
The techniques used in drawing the various bronze designs went from the cut lines and embossed designs used in the historic times periods, to deep relief and three dimensional sculpture-like designs, and eventually even to inlaid designs. Materials like gold, silver, turquoise etc were used for inlaid works (Lang, 1988). Theme factor for inlaid work included animals, along with interlocking geometrical figures based on straight or diagonal lines, and coiled lines. These were all employed mainly for decorative uses, and were creatively and beautifully crafted.
When years pass by, bronze articles exposed to high water content or buried underneath undergo a natural change in which they develop a bright and beautiful coating, or patina. The patina always protects the metal beneath from any damage. The color itself, anyhow, which may range from deep red to dark green to deep blue, gives augmented beauty and looks to the vessel. Chinese people are particularly fond of this colorful coating, and preserve it like that without change.
The designs of early Chinese bronzes were done directly on top of the model or modeled and cast into the bronze, not executed into the cold metal afterward. Without any doubts the section-mold casting ways affected the nature of decorative designs: Shang decorations are distinguished by symmetry, adornment, and incised ornament, generally arranged in horizontal bands added to the vessel contours (Lang, 1988). The most frequently seen decoration in the Shang dynasty is a frontal animal covering. In the Western Zhou times zoomorphic models become more and more common, as the Shang motifs dissolve into linear amplification. A new array of wave and interlace patterns based on snake shapes evolved during the Eastern Zhou era, and these, along with purely geometric patterns, cover the vessels in whole pattern designs(Needham,1986). At the same time, handles become sculptural, displaying tigers, dragons, and other beasts in modes that stress the swellings and curves of the body's muscular structure(Art Chinavoc.com ,2007).
Even today in the Republic of China, the handsomeness of historical bronze art is still found in incense burners and sacrificial containers in temples, in statues on show at schools, or in decorative show pieces at homes; all have been persuaded by the art of China's ancient bronzes. Unlike other cultures, where bronze was first used mainly for tools and weapons, in China this alloy of copper and tin was reserved for the making of fine vessels that performed major roles in state ritual and ancestor worship for more than thousand years, even after the formal starting of the Iron Age in the fifth century B.C. Displaying the wealth and grace of the kings, these ritual material show the highest degree of technical and creative accomplishment in historic Chinese civilization.