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Past exhibition

Special Exhibition
Feast of Bronzes: Rituals and Music from Ancient Times
Exhibition Overview
The development of early human culture can generally be divided into the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. Towards the end of the long Stone Age, humans had gradually learned to mine and smelt metal ore, eventually developing bronze alloys of copper with tin, lead and other metals to make tools, weapons, utensils, and ornaments. Bronze, as a material, has a low melting point, high hardness and excellent stability. After being buried underground for thousands of years, a green patina formed over the surface of the original golden color, turning the bronze into bluish-green. Thus ancient bronzes are called “qingtong” (literal translation: “bluish-green bronze”) in Chinese. The extensive use of bronze, which led to great economic growth and tremendous changes in societies, is regarded as an important milestone in the evolution of early human culture.
This exhibition focuses on the ritual bronzes of Chinese civilization from about 3,000 years ago, and introduces the major types and sophisticated decorations of the time. Fine bronze artifacts from the museum’s collection are showcased. By using innovative multimedia technology, a large-scale immersive theater is installed. In addition, a tactile area of bronze replicas is offered for touch experience. We invite visitors to peek into the material and spiritual world of ancient people through this multi-sensory exhibition.

The Bronze Age of Chinese Civilization
The Bronze Age of the Chinese civilization began about 4,000 years ago, and lasted for around 1,600 years, including the Xia, Shang, and Zhou periods as recorded in historical documents. When the bronzes were first cast, the appearance was shiny golden-yellow, so people also called them “jin” (gold) or “ji jin” (auspicious gold). The aristocracy at that time not only used the precious bronze alloys to cast manufacturing tools and military weapons, but also had them made into large quantities of exquisite ritual utensils. They were mainly used in important occasions such as rituals, banquets and ceremonies, in which they facilitated communication with ancestors and spirits. Ritual bronzes signify the high status and social class of their users, adequately reflecting the importance of religion and ritual systems in early China. 

Richly Varied Decorative Patterns
Sophisticated decorations are an essential feature of early Chinese ritual bronzes. The diverse designs not only intensified the beauty of the vessels, but also served as a medium of communication between humans and the supernatural world. The decorative patterns on bronzes were commonly derived from ancient people’s observation and interpretation of nature. The designs can be roughly divided into: animal motifs, plant motifs, geometric patterns, and other patterns inspired by imagination, such as the mysterious animal mask, auspicious phoenix, and dignified dragon.

Major Types and Functions
During the distant Bronze Age, religious worship was of utmost importance in everyday life. To show piety and respect for etiquette, cleanliness was earnestly pursued in rituals. The “Pan” vessel with a circular foot was the main utensil for washing hands; it also served as a mirror when filled with water. Delicate wine and food were not only offered as sacrifice to ancestors and spirits, but also consumed by the living during the rituals. In the Shang period, there was a wide variety of wine containers, such as the three-legged "Jue" vessel, which can be heated from the bottom to warm wine and has a round spout through which liquid is poured out of. The “Zun” vessel, recognizable by its wide trumpet-shaped mouth, was used for storing large volumes of wine. In the Zhou period, food vessels took center stage among ritual bronzes. The three-legged “Ding” cauldron was the main cooking utensil, heated at the bottom to prepare meat. The “Gui” vessel was for containing food. In addition to offering vessels, musical instruments were also important. The “Zhong” bells were the major type. The striking of these bells creates a sonorous clanging sound, bringing an air of harmony and solemnity in the ritual ceremony.

Ritual Sound of the King: Bell of Zong Zhou
The Zhong bell of Zong Zhou is an exceptionally valuable National Treasure in the National Palace Museum collection, currently displayed in the Museum’s northern branch. This bell was a musical instrument commissioned by the King Li in the late Western Zhou period (about the 9th century B.C.E.) for performing ancestral worship rituals. The bell is decorated with thirty-six nipple-shaped pegs, coiling dragon motifs, and a long and extensive inscription.
The inscription contains 123 characters and describes that during the reign of the King Li, southern states launched a military offense into the land of the Zhou. The King personally led his troops to subdue the enemy; as a result, twenty-six small states paid tribute to the Zhou throne. To thank the ancestors and gods for their blessing, and to celebrate his military achievement, the King commissioned the bell of Zong Zhou, which carried his hopes for eternal peace and prosperity for the country and generations to come.
The National Palace Museum draws inspiration from the bell of Zong Zhou and creates the immersive theater Ritual Sound of the King. With the special effects of immersive projection, the audience may fully immerse themselves in the story where one's imagination and reality collide. This film adopts the rhythms of symphonic poetry, combined with modern scientific theories, to interpret the cosmology of the Zhou people and rituals through which they communicated with ancestors. It also highlights the importance of bronzes in the ritual and music system during that time.

Ritual Sound of the King  Immersive Theater
Film Screening Times

Exhibition Information
  • Event Date 2020-06-25~2021-05-23
  • Location 1F S101
Middle Shang period (c. 13th century B.C.E.)
Pan  water vessel with fish pattern
This is the oldest bronze Pan  vessel in the Museums collection, and its size is quite impressive. Its outer surface is decorated with a band composed of dragon and bead motifs, which were popular at that time; the long dragon motifs loomed in the cloud-and-thunder patterns. In contrast, the decoration on the inner surface is quite clear. The center is a whirlpool with a centrifugal momentum, and on the outside are four fish motifs arranged in an orderly manner, suggesting a scene of fish swimming clockwise with the current.
Late Shang period (c. 11th century B.C.E.)
Square Zun  wine vessel of Ya-chou 
This is a rare square Zun  wine vessel. Square-shaped bronzes usually represent the high status of their commissioner, and often carry extraordinarily gorgeous decorations. The whole piece is covered with ornamental designs, including dragon and animal mask motifs. The most striking feature is the three-dimensional animal heads of different shapes that can be found on each side of the vessels shoulder.
Late Shang period (c. 11thcentury B.C.E.)
Jue  wine vessel with animal mask pattern
This Jue  vessel has an oval bottom; the body is decorated with animal mask motifs. The feet are slender, and the sides of the spout mouth stretch upwards into rounded ends. The erect fungus-shaped pegs at the mouth add a beautiful balance to the vessels shape.
Early Western Zhou period (c. 10th century B.C.E.)
Gue  food container with animal pattern
The compound animal designs on this Gui  vessels outer surface are very distinctive. The two animals face each other with mouths wide open, revealing interlocking three-dimensional fangs. The bodies of the animals are characterized by snail shells, together with antennae, bulging eyes, long coiling trunks and four-toed claws. The decoration is rich in imagination and mystery.
Middle Western Zhou period (c. 10th to 9th century B.C.E.)
Ding  cauldron of Shi Tang-fu 
This Ding  vessel was owned by a government official named "Shi Tang-fu " from the Middle Western Zhou period. Fifty-four characters are inscribed on its inner surface, documenting the officials achievement in having been rewarded bows, arrows and shields by the Zhou King. Details such as dates, locations and events can also be found in the inscription. The outer surface of the vessel shows pairs of extremely sophisticated phoenix motifs with long hanging crowns and strong feathered tails.
Late Western Zhou period c. 9th to 8th century B.C.E.
Bell with“yong bao yong ”inscriptions
This bell has an inscription of three characters“yong bao yong ”, which literally translates as“to be used with reverence forevermore.”It expresses the good virtues inherited from the commissioners ancestors, and the expectations on descendants to follow suit. The shape and decoration of this bell is similar to the treasured Bell of Zong Zhou  in the Museums collection. However, this piece is smaller in size, with simpler patterns. This bell is struck at the lower Gu part. A simplified phoenix motif on the lower right of the bell marks the spot for producing different sounds.
Ritual Sound of the King  Immersive Theater
The inspirations for the creation of this film originated from the historical event that the King Li  of Western Zhou period subdued the chaos successfully. He ordered the casting of the bell of Zong Zhou  with a long inscription to record his achievement. He reported the event to Heaven through ritual music and prayed to his ancestors for endless blessings.
The audience will be placed in a theater space surrounded by giant screens where ones imagination and reality collide. Through viewing this film, the audience will explore the secret of bronze decorations, to experience the Zhou peoples ideas about the universe, and to witness the sincere prayers of the Zhou King and the benevolent blessings from the Kings ancestors.