Defining Chu: Image and Reality in Ancient China by John S. Major, Constance A. Cook

By John S. Major, Constance A. Cook

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4 Evolution of Chu-style pottery li vessel. Upper vessels from Panlongcheng, Hubei (Shang period), lower vessels from Zhaojiahu, Dangyang, Hubei (Spring and Autumn period) [courtesy of Xu Shaohua] Chinese archaeologists understand the Chu region during the Spring and Autumn period to be centered in southwestern Henan and the northern and central Han River valley. The material culture represented a northern base with an overlay of features seen earlier at sites in eastern regions and the Jiang-Han plains.

Heir to the ritual legacies of the Shang and Zhou kings in the north and rooted in the native customs of the south, Chu art served as a geographical and temporal link between the ancient Shang-Zhou traditions and the subsequent Han regimes, as well as a herald for later Chinese artistic trends. From Bronzes to Lacquers and Silks The sixth to third centuries BCE, when Chu was at the height of its power, also marked the last flowering of China's Bronze-Age culture, 1 when the emerging prominence of other materials like iron, steel, glazed highfired ceramics, lacquered wood, and woven textiles began to challenge the supremacy of bronze as the material of choice and prestige.

One example is the ding and fu ritual set. 14 Another source of artistic inspiration for Chu artisans was the Jiang-Han plain (the regions of Hanxi and Handong in Hubei). 15 Also borrowed from the Jiang-Han region was the Chu practice of surrounding the outer coffin with sticky greenish gray and white clays as a method of preservation. The tendency to orient burials toward the east may also have come from this region, as no other source for this practice is yet known. 4 Evolution of Chu-style pottery li vessel.

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