Shang Dynasty Bronze Yan Steamer with Inscription - H.1093
Origin: China
Circa: 1250 BC to 1100 BC
Dimensions: 16.75" (42.5cm) high
Collection: Chinese
Style: Anyang Yinxu Phase
Medium: Bronze

Bronze working is believed to have developed in China without the influence of outside cultures around 2000 B.C. Although there was initially numerous centers of bronze technology, the area in contemporary Henan Province along the banks of the Yellow River eventually advanced to become the most important and influential cultural center of early Bronze Age China. An alloy of copper and tin, bronze was used to create weapons, horse bits and chariot parts, and ritual vessels. China was the only Bronze Age culture in the world to utilize the piece-mold casting method. The advantage of this technique, which involved the use of terracotta molds that were broken into smaller pieces before firing and then reassembled before casting, was that it allowed sculptors to achieve more intricate designs that were more sharply defined.
The Shang Dynasty is the first recorded kingdom in Chinese history. While no major texts have survived, examples of their pictogram writing have found found engraved on bronze vessels and oracle bones. According to legend, the dynasty was founded by a rebel hero who overthrew that last ruler of the corrupt Xia Dynasty. The Shang kings ruled over much of northern China and were engaged in frequent battles with nomadic tribesmen that roamed the steppes and other neighboring tribes. Their society was based primarily upon agriculture, supplemented by hunting and animal husbandry. The Dynasty switched capitals a number of times, although the city Jin, near modern-day Anyang, became the largest and most important.

This glorious utensil surely would have been a treasured possession. However, this yan was not interred with its owner as a sign of wealth. Instead, this steamer was expected to continue cooking meals in the afterlife. The Ancient Chinese believed that the afterlife was an extension of our earthly existence. Thus, it seems logical to reason that as we require food to nourish our bodies on earth, we will require food to nourish our souls in the afterlife. This Yan was created to steam eternally, ushering the deceased into the next world. The bountiful feast that this yan symbolizes continues throughout eternity. Today, we marvel at this work both for its historical and cultural significance as well for its overwhelming beauty. - (H.1093)