Pictographic characters for Chinese bronzeware

Here’s something that caught my eye while browsing the edu-manga ‹Sho› no Rekishi to Meisaku Tehon (★★★☆☆):

Illustrations of Chinese bronzeware vessels, with their name in characters

Illustrations of Chinese bronzeware vessels, with their name in characters

Of course, this is just scratching the surface of the rich world of Chinese bronzeware (of which I know next to nothing). What drew my attention is how many of those characters look pictographic; there’s even a few old favorites like the “cute robot” 鼎 or the Bomberman, 卣. Looking closely:

Character Sample old form Drawing of vessel Description MC SJ Mandarin Typical analysis
Oracle-bone character for 鼎 dǐng Chinese bronzeware vessel 鼎 dǐng Sacrificial vessel (祭器), originally a cauldron for cooking and storing meat (食器) (wikipedia) tengX tei dǐng pictograph
Oracle-bone character for 卣 yǒu Chinese bronzeware vessel 卣 yǒu Covered pot for liquid offerings (wikipedia) yuw yuu yǒu pictograph
Oracle-bone character for 壺 hú Chinese bronzeware vessel 壺 hú Pear-shaped ritual wine vessel (wikipedia) hu ko pictograph
Bronze-script for 爵 jué Chinese bronzeware vessel 爵 jué Tripod goblet for warm wine (wikipedia) tsjak shaku jué pictograph (+ hand?)
Oracle-bone character for 斝 jiǎ Chinese bronzeware vessel 斝 jiǎ A cauldron for warming wine / holding libations (wikipedia) kaeX ka jiǎ pictograph
Oracle-bone character for 尊 zūn Chinese bronzeware vessel 尊 zūn Tall cylindrical wine cup (wikipedia) tswon son zūn hands offering cup

Oracle-bone character for 彝 yí Chinese bronzeware vessel 彝 yí 1. Large squat round pot. 2. Tall box-like container. 3. Generic name for sacrificial vessels. 4. Synonym of 尊 zūn above (wikipedia) yij i something involving hands, thread, rice, and a pig
Oracle-bone character for 角 jué Chinese bronzeware vessel 角 jué A wine cup similar to a 爵 jué (wikipedia) kaeX kaku jué (not jiǎo) pictograph of horn (borrowed character?)
Seal character for 觚 gū Chinese bronzeware vessel 觚 gū Tall wine cup with no handles (wikipedia) ku ko pictograph of horn + shape indicator?
Oracle-bone character for 盤 pán Chinese bronzeware vessel 盤 pán Round curved dish for food (wikipedia) ban ban pán pictograph of bowl (bottom) + phonetic element
𣪘 (-) Chinese bronzeware vessel 𣪘 guǐ ??? (perhaps the same as guǐ?) kwijX ki guǐ ???

MC is Middle Chinese reconstruction as per Baxter-Sagart (using their notation); SJ is the Sino-Japanese (on-yomi). Click the character for a Kanjigen link, from which you can browse more analyses. The sample old form (seal, bronze, or oracle-bone) is from Sear; click it for a direct link to his site, which lists lots more.

The last character seems rare, and the high-plane Unicode encoding apparently confuses both Sear’s and my own Kanjigen tool.

3 thoughts on “Pictographic characters for Chinese bronzeware

  1. Personal opinion: I’ve always found those old bronzes aesthetically grotesque. It’s sobering to think of the nobility and priesthood (the 1% of those days) expending vast resources and deploying the latest technology to create urns and pots for the purpose of making sacrifices and libations to the gods. It is truly amazing the various alleys that cultural development goes stampeding into.

  2. Still better than the Aztecs! But I agree, it’s weird. Even without researching one can sense an entire metaphysics system justifying the variety and cost of these vessels. The material culture of chanoyu, being comparatively self-centered (or at least not god-centered), results in objets d′art so much more delightful.

    Speaking of material culture, I’m reading Schafer and it’s pure glee.

  3. I’m not sure that I can pass judgement on a culture that’s three or four thousand years separated from me. I personally find these bronzes to be quite amazing. I have admired these things in a museum very near where I grew up and especially found the shaku, the jue, to have a very interesting design. Between the Xia dynasty and the Qin, there was a lot of history, but these forms survived through those times, and the craftsmen who made them certainly should be honoured for their artistry and inventiveness. It’s always important to remember that every one of these objects came from the hard work of an ordinary and unknown person.

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