Friday, September 28, 2007

The Zhou Dynasty

The Zhou bronzes are different from the Shang bronzes. How do you describe the differences? What caused these changes?

How do you understand this statement "The Shang people lived in fear, therefore their arts appear to be threatening." What were they afraid of? Were the Zhou people afraid of the same things? why or why not?

Any questions or ideas are welcomed.

3 comments: said...

Bronzes of the Western Zhou were more coarsely modeled, than those of the late Shang. Furthermore, the shapes of the Zhou pottery were more heavy and sagging and contained flanges that were large and spiky. Bronzes of the Shang Dynasty contained animal motifs. In contrast, Zhou bronzes contained broad bands, meanders, and scale patterns. Mythical creatures that were once present disappeared as a result of changes in religious beliefs in the ruling class. Animals located on the pieces were no longer used as protective symbols for a clan. The human being was seen as being more important. During the Shang Dynasty, the king was believed to be blessed by his ancestors whom were spiritually linked to Di. (Thus, the concept Di-Ancestors-King.) During the rein of the Zhou Dynasty, the king was placed in the center,(Heaven-king-realm of human being.) The king then had control/power over everything. If he had done something wrong, heaven would punish him, and that would then affect the realm of the human being. (This is what I understand from the lecture in class.)

Finally, the pottery did not contain as much animal imagery because during the Zhou Dynasty, it was more important to leave space to record history on the pieces.

I think the Shang people lived in fear of their king and of the human sacrifices that took place. Many of the bronze pieces during the Shang period were used for ritual purposes. For instance, for dedication purposes or to offer food and wine to ancestral spirits (pg. 23 in the text). During the Zhou dynasty, the pieces were used as a means of communicating to clan ancestors and for recording.

I am curious, what are some features/characteristics that make Shang arts appear threatening? The bronzes, of course, were more massive than Zhou bronzes. However are there any other characteristics?

Melissa said...

I believe that the Shang lived in fear for a variety of reasons. As was discussed in class, the Shang feared what would become of them in their afterlife. This fear also ties in with their fear of outsiders invading the Shang civilization. For example, when King Wu took over Anyang, the last Shang ruler committed suicide. This showed how he would rather die for his beliefs of the Shang and the Di. Otherwise, being conquered or killed by the Zhou would contradict everything they believed in as well their deceased ancestors, which plays a huge factor. The Shang probably feared that they would not live a good afterlife if this would occur. They also probably feared losing their culture and the fact that the Shang was the first real Dynasty gave them an uncertainty about their power.
The Zhou were fearful but more established than the Shang, therefore they were more confident. However,the Zhou did outsiders as well.

Yadira said...

Wasson, I completely agree with your question of what are some features that make the Shang arts appear threatening.

It's a difficult question, but I think it depends on everyone's perception. I don't see why Shang's animal motifs are considered threatening. I only see a depiction of that animal's strength and qualities. My perception of threatening is entirely different from the video narrator's perception. Does this image looks threatening to you?

I'm sure not. It belongs to the Shang dynasty and it just portrays the animal's characteristics. (I'm not sure if you'll be able to see the pic)

However, I disagree with you about Zhou's pottery being more heavy than the Shang's. It was the other way around, and you even affirm it by saying at the end that Shang's bronzes were "more massive" than Zhou's.

What anthropologists and scientists have discovered of earlier Chinese dynasties (at least the ones we have studied so far) is based on royal (or high status) tombs excavations. How can we generalize (and the narrator) the fact that the Shang "people" lived in fear when those potteries, made of bronze or any other material, were exclusively made for the royal or high statues society that, as it usually happens, does not form the general population but a small percent of it.

Melissa, I agree with you about the Zhou being uncertain about their power, since the Shang was the 'first' real historically proven dynasty. I think that's one of the main reasons why they decided to decorate their pottery with inscriptions and writings, to reemphasize their legitimate command, and perhaps to be remembered throughout every dynasty.

Now, if as the author mentions "there was no abrupt break with Shang traditions" (pg. 33) and ancestor worshiping continued during the Zhou dynasty, why is the heaven-king-human beings religion so well accepted? Isn't ancestral worshiping more intertwined in Chinese culture than say a Heaven or king's worship? (I might be wrong, but I just wonder)