Bronzes from the Shang Dynasty to the Western Zhou Dynasty
The earliest bronzes found in the Hunan region so far have come from several Shang Dynasty sites more 3500 years old: Tonggushan of Yueyang City and Zaoshi of Shimen County. In the late Shang Dynasty, superbly-cast and novel-shaped bronze vessels began to appear, forming a bronze culture with the features of the Central Plains and special local characteristics.

Bronze Ding with Human Mask Design from the Shang Dynasty

Height: 38.5 cm; Length: 29.8 cm; width: 23.7cm
unearthed at Huangcai, Ningxiang
Ding is a cooking vessel. This one has two handles on the top of its brim, making it easy for people to carry. The four underlying legs make heating rather easy. The Shang Dynasty left behind many bronze ding. The most attractive part of this ding is the four human face reliefs on its belly. These faces have thick brows and large eyes, high nose ridges and protruding cheekbones, tightly-shut mouths and serious expressions. On each side of each forehead is a zigzagging small horn, and on each side of each cheek an animal paw. This indicates that these are not human faces but rather the images of gods or grotesque spirits. There is the inscription of “da-he” inside its belly.
There are legends in Chinese history of Emperor Yu of the Xia Dynasty casting nine ding. After the downfall of the Xia Dynasty, the nine ding became the property of the Shang Dynasty, and after the downfall of the Shang Dynasty, it became the property of the Zhou Dynasty. Ding thus became a symbol of state power. Specifically for individuals, owning a Ding became the symbol of a person’s social status.