Times & Places

Zhou dynasty (c. 1050 BCE-256 BCE)

The Zhou dynasty is divided into the Western Zhou (1050-771 BCE) and Eastern Zhou (771-256 BCE). The Eastern Zhou is further divided into the Spring and Autumn period (722-481 BCE) and the Warring States period (403-221 BCE). The former period derives its name from the title of a historical work said to have been edited by Confucius, who lived near the end of the period, and the latter saw the dissolution of the confederacy of princely states which had been progressively less under then control of the Zhou kings. The Zhou period saw the rise of feudalism, court ritual, and ancestor worship, especially by the kings. The religious function of bronzes and their inscriptions declined, and they became vessels for the transmission of court histories, and symbolic of rank and honor. In the middle of the Zhou, new vessel shapes appeared, reflecting changes in rituals and beliefs.

Many ceramics imitated bronze vessel shapes, and by the late Zhou ceramics became popular substitutes for bronzes in burial practices. Pottery was also an occasional substitute for human and animal sacrifices. Two types of ware developed--tao (pottery) and ci (stoneware). Stoneware with ash glaze had been developed in the Shang and continued in the Zhou. In provincial areas, the production of Neolithic type wares extended into the Zhou and even Han dynasty.

Despite the conflict of the Eastern Zhou, it was a time of intellectual and creative growth. Confucius (551-479 BCE) lived during this period, and his humanistic philosophy had a profound and lasting impact on Chinese culture. His sayings were compiled in the Analects by his disciple Mencius around a century after his death. Confucius maintained that proper forms of respect, within a hierarchy reaching back to the ancestors and thus to deities, were fundamental to the harmony and order of society. Another significant belief system to emerge in this period was Taoism. Its founding is attributed to the possibly mythical Laozi, and the Taoteching (The Way and Its Power), the fundamental text of Taoism, was complied some time after the 4th century BCE.

At the end of the Warring States period, the first imperial dynasty was established. The Qin, from which 'China' is derived, lasted from 221-206 BCE. The Qin unified China into a coherent political and cultural entity that was further consolidated in the Han dynasty.

Jeelan Bilal-Gore, Digital Collections Content Coordinator, 2015.

Drawn from

  • Bamber Gascoigne, The Dynasties of China: A History (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2003), 27-53.

  • "Accession," Dallas Museum of Fine Arts Newsletter, December 1973.

  • Mary Tregear, Chinese Art (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 38-49.

  • Michael Sullivan, The Arts of China (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999), 43-59.

  • Carol Michaelson, "Zhou Dynasty, Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T093455?q=zhou&search;=quick&pos;=7&_start=1#firsthit . Accessed May 15, 2015.

  • Sherman E. Lee, Far Eastern Art, 5th Edition (New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1994), 41-56.

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