Techniques, Style, and Function: an Integrated Perspective on the Social Understanding of Bronze Ritual Vessels of Late Shang Dynasty


Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Grants to Individuals in East and Southeast Asian Archaeology and Early History Study and Research Fellowships (East and Southeast Asia)




University of British Columbia


Bronze ritual vessels from Yinxu, the capital site of late Shang dynasty, occupied an important position in Shang civilization. They have been intensively studied from a variety of perspectives, involving typology, periodization, casting technology, decoration, vessel assemblages, and bronze inscriptions. Building upon current scholarship on Shang bronzes, this project develops a social understanding of the production and utilization of bronze ritual vessels during late Shang dynasty by integrating aspects of function, technology, and style that have been often treated as discrete domains of investigation. It explores the potential of the concepts of the habitus and the chaine operatoire in understanding the roles and meaning of bronze ritual vessels in the construction of Shang's social world. Emphasis is placed on an examination of the nature of and differences in the contexts of production and utilization of bronze ritual vessels, and the consideration of the link between things (as objects) and techniques (as processes) in the social contexts where they were generated, reproduced, and transformed. Of particular interest are the questions: (1) what were the social processes and structures that conditioned the production and consumption of bronze ritual vessels during the Shang Dynasty?; (2) what social and technical roles did ritual vessels play?; and (3) how did they reciprocally affected social processes and structures of the Shang society?