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Li Gui: A Bronze Vessel that Recorded History

May 22, 2009

Name: Li Gui Bronze Vessel | 中文名: 利簋
Dated to: 1046 B.C. | Culture: Early Zhou Dynasty
Unearthed: 1976 @ Lintong, Shaanxi | Current location: National Museum of China
Dimension: Height 28cm x Diameter 22cm | Weight: 7.95kg

Inscription on Li Gui - A Battle Record

Inscription on Li Gui - A Battle Record

It recorded an important ancient battle

At inner bottom of this bronze vessel, there is inscription of 4 line 32 characters in ancient type Chinese. Despite controversial on details, it generally means:

“King Wu of Zhou Dynasty successfully overthrew Shang Dynasty in the morning of Jiazi (first) day, when Sui Star (Jupiter) was high in the sky; On Xinwei (eighth) day, in the military camp at Lan (place), King rewarded copper to an official named Li. Li cast this bronze vessel to commemorate his grandfather.”

What happened before 841BC in China?

In general, Chinese people proudly say that China has a 5000 years long rich history. However, documented history in China started in Gonghe Era, Zhou Dynasty (year 841B.C.). History happened before that year was vague and not recorded well. Historians throughout Chinese history had tried hard to study what happened before 841B.C.. But due to limited documentation and technology, little was achieved in determining the exact timeline of Chinese history before 841B.C..

In recent centuries, lots of ancient bronze wares and oracle bones have been unearthed in China. They provide a great resource to study the undocumented history of China. Li Gui is one of them, and an important one.

It tells when Zhou Dynasty overthrew Shang Dynasty

Shang dynasty was the second Chinese dynasty. Dixin, the last Shang king, committed suicide after his army was defeated by the Zhou people. Legends say that his slave army betrayed him by joining the Zhou rebels in a decisive battle – the battle of Muye.

The date of this decisive battle was very controversial among historians. There are totally 44 different theories with date ranging from 1130-1018B.C. (112 years range).

The Battle of Muye

The Battle of Muye

This bronze vessel, Li Gui, is the ONLY heritage that recorded the date of this battle “on Jiazi (first) day”. It also tells the astrology observation at that time: about Jupiter. This helped the historians a lot define the exact year of the battle. In addition, since the King rewarded the official on eighth day, it suggests that the battle did not last long.

[Forbidden Treasure of China Series]
This is the 5th of 64 culture heritages that the government of China forbids to exhibit abroad. The complete list is here. In Chinese.

[Chinese Keywords]
国家一级文物 禁止出境

[Image Sources]
1. by logan | 2. by yy7664595 | 3. by transmaster

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  1. May 25th, 2009 at 15:12 | #1

    If my memory is good, the first three dynasties are “Xia”, “Shang” and “Zhou”, right?

    Ancient Chinese history is amazing to me. So advanced for the time…

  2. May 25th, 2009 at 16:48 | #2

    You are right, and your PinYin spelling are all right, too. Ancient Chinese history is fascinating; I really hope people can make some good epic movies based on those legends.

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