Gu, a Chinese character rich in ancient charm, represents a special vessel in ancient China. It served both as a container for drinking alcohol and as a dignified ceremonial object. Its existence not only witnessed the lives of ancient people but also symbolized the etiquette-oriented nature of Chinese civilization.
As early as the Shang Dynasty, Gu, as a type of bronze ware, had become an indispensable part of people’s lives. Its unique form, with a trumpet-shaped mouth similar to a cup with a ringed base, made it distinct. In the early Shang period, Gu had a shorter and coarser form with a cross-shaped hole on the ringed base, enhancing both its practicality and unique aesthetic value. During the late Shang and Western Zhou periods, Gu underwent significant changes, becoming longer and featuring a high ringed base, with the cross-shaped hole gradually disappearing. This transformation not only reflected technological advancements but also mirrored the evolution of social customs and aesthetic concepts.
In ancient China, Gu and Jue constituted a fundamental set of bronze wares closely connected to people’s ceremonial life. Whether hosting guests or making ancestral sacrifices, this set of vessels was indispensable. Ancient texts such as the “Shuowen Jiezi” contain numerous records and descriptions of Gu. These documents inform us that Gu was an important wine vessel in ancient times, with a capacity of approximately three liters, used in conjunction with Jue, carrying significant ceremonial value.
During the Shang and Western Zhou periods, great figures like King Wen and Confucius were known to have used Gu for drinking. This practice was not merely a form of enjoyment but also a way to express respect and gratitude. Therefore, Gu held a prominent position in the ceremonial life of ancient people. However, only individuals of high status were allowed to use Gu, highlighting the strict norms and restrictions surrounding ceremonial wares and etiquette in ancient society.
As time progressed, by the Song Dynasty and later, Gu gradually lost its practical function as a wine vessel and transformed into a decorative item used for flower arrangements in living spaces. This change not only reflected the shifts in the era and societal progress but also demonstrated people’s pursuit and yearning for a beautiful life. During this period, Gu became more of an ornament, adding elegance and charm to people’s lives.
Notably, in the Ming and Qing periods, Gu continued to be an important item for decorating halls. Many literati and artists praised and depicted Gu in their works. These objects were not just utensils but also symbols of culture and history, witnessing the changes and development of ancient Chinese society while carrying people’s aspirations for a better life.
A bronze Gu unearthed from a tomb dating back to the Shang Dynasty in Xuezhuang Village, Xiazhen, Weishan County, Shandong Province, provides valuable physical evidence. This bronze Gu, measuring 25.8 centimeters in height, has a trumpet-shaped mouth, protruding abdomen, high ringed base, and a plain surface without patterns. Despite lacking elaborate decorations and intricate craftsmanship, its existence attests to the significance placed on wine vessels and etiquette in that era. Designated as a national secondary cultural relic, it serves as a compelling testament to the lifestyle and culture of that period.
In conclusion, Gu, as an ancient Chinese wine vessel and ceremonial object, harbors rich cultural connotations and social significance. It witnesses the changes and development of ancient Chinese society while embodying people’s aspirations for a better life. Although we are far removed from that era today, understanding and studying Gu allows us to sense the importance and pursuit of life and etiquette in that time. This pursuit and spirit are values that we still need to inherit and uphold today.
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