China Drinking Vessels

Gold Cup
Gold Cup of Tang Dynasty

Way back in antiquity wine produced in China was not as we know it today. The fermented product had a thick creamy consistency and was eaten, not being suitable for drinking. Thus the vessels used were more or less the same as those used for other food such as bamboo bowls. Archeological finds dating from as early as the Neolithic Period, show that pottery had been brought into use and consequently drinking vessels were produced in a variety of forms from a simple cup to those with handles and elaborate shapes. Usually, the higher the quality are, the more dignified or important was the owner.

Bronze Vessels

They became the fashion during the Shang Dynasty (16th -11th century BC), and these took on four different forms: there were those that were used for heating their contents, those that would contain a quantity of wine for serving such as jugs or flagons, actual drinking vessels, and those that were used for storage. As well as basic designs there were those that were quite elaborate and which were a symbol of social status.

Bronze Drinking Vessel
Bronze Drinking Vessel

Those were produced in the shapes of the tiger, elephant, rhinoceros, ox or sheep, etc. something that demonstrates the high standards of manufacturing skills that had been attained at the time.

Lacquer Vessels

They became popular in the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220). As it was the custom for people to sit on the floor of their dwellings, the vessels would have been set there for them. This meant that the shapes tended to be low and chunky, often with ear-like handles. Excavation of the Mawangdui Han Tombs, revealed some 90 ear-handled cups that are evidence of the artistic skills employed in their production. From the Jin Dynasty (265 - 420) onwards, people liked to sit on a divan or bed, and this led to the introduction of tall and thin-necked cups.

Porcelain Vessels

The design of porcelain vessels produced during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907) surpassed any that had gone before and they were much smaller and more delicate. This material continued to be used until the Ming and Qing Dynasty. The bowls and stoups with their blue and white flower patterns were quite an art.

Aesthetic Vessels

Porcelain Cup
Porcelain Cup

Historically, the more unique vessels have been made from special materials such as gold, silver, ivory, jade, cloisonne, and so on. Although they were never in common use, they occupy an important position because of their high artistic value. The following descriptions are of very special ones:

Luminous Cup:

a poet in the Tang Dynasty wrote a verse 'Grape-wine in the luminous cup' to describe the exotic scene in the western region (the next sentence emphasized the fact that soldiers should not be allowed to drink because of the imminent warfare). This distinctive cup was made of jade in Mt. Qilianshan which was said to have the function of helping keep the contents wholesome and now it is highly regarded for its aesthetic value.

Backwards-flowing Flagon:

This can be seen in the Shaanxi Provincial Museum. The flagon was produced during the Northern Song Dynasty (960 - 1127). It has a round body and what appears to be the lid is like a persimmon pedicel. Its handle bears a phoenix which seems to be raising her head and about to take flight.

Porcelain Wine Cup
Porcelain Wine Cup

The spout is carved as a female lion from whose mouth the wine can pour. Under the lioness is her son, - the suckling little lion adds more yet interest to the body. The belly of the flagon is decorated with a peony flower pattern. On the underside of the flagon there is a hole like a plum blossom. It is here that the wine is poured into the vessel and the design is such that the liquid does not run out when it is returned to an upright position.

Nine-dragon Fairness Cup:

This is another cup from the Song Dynasty. A dragon is carved on the inside of the cup and there are eight painted dragons on the outside, hence the name 'nine-dragon cup'. Beneath them is a round tray with a hollow pedestal. When the wine is poured in properly, it cannot leak but if a certain limit is exceeded then all the wine will be absorbed into the pedestal.

Dushan Dayuhai:

In Beijing's Beihai Park there is a large black jade urn that weighs 3,500 kilograms (7,716 pounds) and that can hold 1,800 kilograms (3,968 pounds). On its exterior there are powerful engravings of living dragons and beasts emerging from waves. It is said that this urn was transported in the Yuan Dynasty's first emperor to reward heroes at a great feast.

- Last modified on Apr. 21, 2021 -
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