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5.18: Art Under the Zhou Dynasty

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    Learning Objective

    • Identify some of the art forms prevelant under the Zhou Dynasty

    Key Points

    • Work in bronze, including inscriptions, continued and expanded in the Zhou Dynasty.
    • Few paintings have survived from this period, but we know that they were representations of the real world.
    • The production of lacquerware expanded during this period.



    A natural varnish, originating in China or Japan, and extracted from the sap of a sumac tree.

    Bronze, Ceramics, and Jade

    Chinese script cast onto bronzeware, such as bells and cauldrons, carried over from the Shang Dynasty into the Zhou; it showed continued changes in style over time, and by region. Under the Zhou, expansion of this form of writing continued, with the inclusion of patrons and ancestors.

    Example of Bronze Inscription. This example of bronze inscription was cast on the Song ding, ca. 800 BCE. The text records the appointment of a man named Song (颂) as supervisor of the storehouses in Chengzhou, and is repeated on at least 3 tripod pots (鼎 dǐng), 5 tureens (簋 guǐ) and their lids, and 2 vases (壺 hú) and their lids.

    Other improvements to bronze objects under the Eastern Zhou included greater attention to detail and aesthetics. The casting process itself was improved by a new technique, called the lost wax method of production.

    Example of Western Zhou Bronze. A Chinese bronze “gui” ritual vessel on a pedestal, used as a container for grain. From the Western Zhou Dynasty, dated c. 1000 BC. The written inscription of 11 ancient Chinese characters on the bronze vessel states its use and ownership by Zhou royalty.

    Ceramic and Jade art continued from the Shang Dynasty, and was improved and refined, especially during the Warring States Period.


    Very few paintings from the Zhou have survived, however written descriptions of the works have remained. Representations of the real world, in the form of paintings of figures, portraits, and historical scenes, were common during the time. This was a new development. Painting was also done on pottery, tomb walls, and on silk.

    Example of Silk Painting. This example of silk painting shows a man riding a dragon, and has been dated to the 5th-3rd century BCE.


    Lacquerware was a technique through which objects were decoratively covered by a wood finish and cured to a hard, durable finish. The lacquer itself might also be inlaid or carved. The Zhou continued and developed lacquer work done in the Shang Dynasty. During the Eastern Zhou period, a large quantity of lacquerware began to be produced.

    Example of Lacquerware. These are Chinese Western Han (202 BC – 9 CE) era lacquerwares and lacquer tray unearthed from the 2nd-century-BCE Han Tomb No.1 at Mawangdui, Changsha, China in 1972.


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