A guang or gong (Chinese: 觥; pinyin: guāng or gōng; Wade–Giles: kung1) is a particular shape used in Chinese art for vessels, originally made as Chinese ritual bronzes in the Shang dynasty, and sometimes later in Chinese porcelain. They are a type of ewer which was used for pouring rice wine at ritual banquets, and often deposited as grave goods in high-status burial. Examples of the shape may be described as ewers, ritual wine vessels, wine pourers and similar terms, though all of these terms are also used of a number of other shapes, especially the smaller tripod jue and the larger zun.
The guang has a single thick foot, and a thick hollow body that represents one or more stylized animals (some have a head at both ends). Guangs have a vertical handle at one end and a spout at the other, both zoomorphic, and were often highly decorated with taotie. The handle of the guang is of often in the shape of the neck and head of an animal with stylized horns, and the spout of the vessel is in the form of the head of a creature whose mouth constitutes the end of the spout. The back and animal head at the pouring end usually are a removable lid, lifted off for pouring.
Their main period of use was during the Shang and Zhou dynasties, from around 1700 to 900 BCE; thereafter the shape was sometimes used in a revivalist spirit. The Ritual wine server (guang), Indianapolis Museum of Art, 60.43 is a fine example from about 1100 BC.
Function and Use
The guang bronze ritual vessels of Early China were primarily used to house and serve wine during ancestor worship rituals in which the wine vapors were to be consumed by the deceased spirits and the actual physical contents to be enjoyed by the living. This use, for storage and serving, is suggested through the form of the vessel. It is typically supported by one oval-shaped foot (supported more rarely by four legs), while the bronze itself takes the form of several animals and fantastical creatures metamorphosed. Each guang also has a neck and head, which serve as the pouring channel for the wine. A lid accompanies the vessel to complete the form. According to Robert Bagley, this lid is the chief idiosyncrasy, or characteristic, of the guang, for it is where the largest relief and decoration often takes place. While this decor is significant in the meaning behind these works, the animal and fantastic creature ornamentation does not have an exact intended purpose for the bronzes, and is still left to interpretation.
Guang bronze vessels were used not only in life to honor the deceased, but also at times placed with the deceased in their grave. Because of this, the ritual vessels are not only apotropaic but useful to the living as well. They are both everyday functioning items, but also objects which serve religious and spiritual purposes.
The Guang is distinguishable by its zoomorphic lid and handle, and its one-footed base. The animal figure at the front of the lid is often a tiger or dragon, while the sculpted handle ranges in decoration from fantastic creatures such as dragons to real animals such as rams, elephants, and the beaks of birds. Some guang lids also depict animals, typically birds, at the back of the vessel facing or transitioning into the handle. The animals on the lid and handle are presented "in the round".
The surface of the vessel is decorated in low- to mid-relief. This relief may depict the bodies belonging to creatures rendered on the lid or other complete animal figures. It is not uncommon for one animal to transition directly into another. The lower sections of the guang are also often divided into registers and quadrants by flanges. This flange can be the central divider of a taotie, a mask-like creature motif with curving horns and two dragon-like bodies stretching out to its sides. Other surface embellishments include geometric background shapes such as the squared-spiral, the lei-wen. These were used both to fill in empty space between more representational imagery and sometimes as smaller detail in those images.
Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-1046 BCE)
See Also: Shang Dynasty
The guang, one of many types of Chinese ritual bronze vessels, is both late to come into the world of bronze vessels, and lasts a very short amount of time. The earliest account of guang vessels comes from late in the Shang dynasty, during the Anyang Period, spanning from c. 1300-1046 BCE. These vessels were distinct from other guang objects in early Chinese history because of their decoration. In the Shang Dynasty, the guang featured ornamentation which had not been fully developed. In a late twelfth century to early eleventh century guang, the decoration is lacking on the bottom register, but more innovative in design in the lid and upper registers. In the Qi Guang vessel from approximately the same time period, the decoration has been compartmentalized and unified in style, which utilizes conventional motifs of bird, dragon, and other animal imagery.
Western Zhou Dynasty (c. 1045-771 BCE)
See Also: Western Zhou
The Western Zhou Dynasty is the final period in which guang vessels are known to have been made, due widely to the Ritual Revolution which occurred in the late Western Zhou dynasty, ultimately reducing the number of wine vessels being made. Before this disappearance, the guang saw changes in form, such as the ovular foot being sometimes replaced with four legs. The decoration also becomes more refined, yet still using animal and fantastic imagery.
Early Chinese bronze vessels were cast using the piece-mold process. This process involved the artist forming the mold in pieces from clay, then connecting them to make one overall vessel form. With this method, the decoration on a vessel's surface had to be incised into the clay in reverse and negative. This means that images that would be raised on the surface of the metal would have to become depressions in the clay mold. The void inside the mold is then filled with molten metal, creating the positive. In contrast, the process of lost-wax casting allows an artisan to create a wax model of the desired object. The molten metal takes the place of the wax when cast. Frequently it was necessary in the casting of large vessels to cast the main portion, include it in the construction of another mold, and then cast protrusions—such as the guang's handle—onto that piece.
From late Shang to early Zhou dynasty, the number of characters per inscription increased on these bronze vessels. These inscriptions recorded very important events (such as sacrifices), gifts by a king to his officials, praise accorded to ancestors, records for exchange/sale land, and political marriages to make stronger relationships.
Important Guang examples
Late 10th - early 11th BCE
Height 28.7 cm, Length 36.5 cm, Weight 7.55 kg
Excavated 1976 from Storage Pit NO.1, Zhuangbo, Fufeng Xian, Shanxi province
The inscription identifies this as a gift from the King to his officials. The inscription has 40 words which also recorded when the gift was given and to whom it was given.
Ri Ji Guang (日已觥) [Picture]
Mid 9th - Mid 10th BCE
Height 32 cm, Length 33.5 cm
The inscription has 10 words which identify it as a sacrificial utensil from Ri Ji's son. 
Historical and cultural references
- "Gong (Bronze Work". Britannica Encyclopaedia. Retrieved 9 November 2012.
- Great Bronze Age of China. New York, NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1980. p. 205.
- Bagley, Robert (1987). Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections. Washington, D.C.: Sackler Foundation. p. 413.
- Rawson, Jessica (1987). Chinese Bronzes: Art and Ritual. British Museums Publication Ltd. pp. 26–41.
- "Freer and Sackler Galleries". Retrieved 2 December 2012.
- D'Argence, Rene-Yvon (1977). Bronze Vessels of Ancient China in the Avery Brundage Collection. Japan: Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd. p. 66.
- D'Argence, Rene-Yvon (1977). Bronze Vessels of Ancient China in the Avery Brundage Collection. Japan: Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd. pp. 10–12.
- Bagley, Robert (1987). Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections. Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Foundation. p. 414. ISBN 0-674-80525-9.
- von Erdberg, Eleanor (1993). Ancient Chinese Bronzes: Terminology and Iconology. Fulda, Germany: Fuldaer Verlagsanstalt. pp. 42, 43. ISBN 3-87747-063-7.
- D'Argence, Rene-Yvon (1977). Bronze Vessels of Ancient China in the Avery Brundage Collection. Japan: Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd. p. 11.
- Asian Art Museum (1977). Bronze Vessels of Ancient China in the Avery Brundage Collection. San Francisco, CA: Asian Art Museum. pp. 66–67.
- The Great Bronze Age of China. New York, NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1980. pp. 184–185.
- Delbanco, Dawn Ho (1983). Art from Ritual. Ancient Chinese Bronze Vessels from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections. Washington, D.C.: The Arthur M. Sackler Foundation. pp. 14–15. ISBN 0-916724-54-9.
- Ping-hen, Liou. "Bronzes of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties". National Museum of History Republic of China, May 1, 1989.P9,P10
- 陈佩芬."认识古代青铜器".艺术家出版社.1995.P39 - P47
- 陜西省博物馆编."陜西出土商周青铜器". 北京 : 文物出版社 : 新华书店北京发行所发行. 1979-1984
- Fong, Wen (1980). Great Bronze Age of China. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.. ISBN 0-87099-226-0, P205, P206
- Allen, Anthony J."Allen's Authentication of Ancient Chinese Bronzes".Walter Hirsh and Associates. December 31, 2001. P25
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- Allen, Anthony J."Allen's Authentication of Ancient Chinese Bronzes".Walter Hirsh and Associates. December 31, 2001
- Asian Art Museum. Bronze Vessels of Ancient China in the Avery Brundage Collection. San Francisco:
Asian Art Museum, 1977.
- Bagley, Robert (1987). Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections. Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Foundation. ISBN 0-674-80525-9.
- D'Argence, Rene-Yvon (1977). Bronze Vessels of Ancient China in the Avery Brundage Collection. Japan: Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd.
- The Great Bronze Age of China. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1980.
- Delbanco, Dawn Ho (1983). Art from Ritual. Ancient Chinese Bronze Vessels from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections. Washington, D.C.: The Arthur M. Sackler Foundation. ISBN 0-916724-54-9.
- Fong, Wen (1980). Great Bronze Age of China. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.. ISBN 0-87099-226-0
- Ping-hen, Liou. "Bronzes of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties". National Museum of History Republic of China, May 1, 1989
- Rawson, Jessica (1987). Chinese Bronzes: Art and Ritual. British Museums Publication Ltd.
- Sing, Yu; Caron Smith (1999). Ringing Thunder- Tomb Treasures from Ancient China. San Diego: San Diego Museum of Art. ISBN 0-937108-24-3.
- A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- "Freer and Sackler Galleries". Retrieved 2 December 2012.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica
- Timeline of Art History
- The great bronze age of China: an exhibition from the People's Republic of China, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on guangs