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The ancient Chinese were placed in burials of the bronze utensils to indicate the status of the relatives of the deceased

Archaeologists have proposed an alternative explanation for why ancient Chinese were placed in the graves of bronze and clay utensils. This was done not only to emphasize the status of the deceased, but also to increase the prestige of his heirs in the eyes of other members of the community.

Scientists engaged in the study of ancient Chinese ritual utensils of the bronze age (2100-221 BC), traditionally seen it as a way to establish social status of the deceased. The objects were placed in tombs, can be divided into two groups. First, it is carefully made of clay or bronze ritual vessels “lice”, which could be used with a practical purpose. The largest number was found “lice” refers to the period 1400-150 BC


The second group of ritual objects are things that due to brittle material or of irregular shape could not be used in life and were made specifically for placement in the grave. To such subjects – “mince” – include, for example, small terracotta figures.

In the burials Dating from the fourth century BC “mince” are often copies of “lice” and are richly decorated pottery vessels, reminiscent of the bronze samples.

Specialisto Chinese bronze and ceramics Joey Beckman from Beloit College (USA, Wisconsin) studied burials in the South of Hubei province, Dating back to IV–III centuries BC and belonged to the Chu Kingdom. The purpose of Professor Beckman was the study of objects placed in graves, and the explanation of the role played by two “sets” of these subjects: “mince and lice”. With the results of her work can be found in the journal Antiquity .

In one explored by archaeologists from the graves (district Wenchang), the size of which is 6.5 by 4.2 meters, were found 29 bronze ritual vessels and 17 clay, copying them. Some graves clay “mince” differed from the bronze vessels in form, but were clearly of the same functional purpose.


In the grave, located in the Baoshan district (25 km North-East of Wahana), was found 19 bronze tripods, and 40 vessels, but archaeologists have not found a single clay object “minzi”.

At the same time, bronze vessels differ markedly in quality: some were done very carefully, others wore traces of a not too neat (coarser irregular shape, damage caused in the process of creating).

Archaeologists have suggested that these casually-made vessels were required to perform the role of a clay “minzi”.

In order to understand what was the significance of “sets” of bronze and clay vessels, Professor Beckman carefully studied the ancient monuments of written culture. The term “mince” in the value of the object that is placed in the grave, was first recorded in the treatise “Xun zi”, dated around the III century BC In this text the word “mince” marked only “useless”, almost unused things that are put into the grave.


In his treatise “Lee JI”, one of the main canons of Confucianism, there is another interpretation of the concept of “mince”.

It says that “mince” meant for the spirits, and “lice” for the people.

Professor Bekman, based on this text, concludes: two “sets” of ritual vessels in graves of the ancient Chinese meant for two different people deceased and his heir. Their status can be unequal, hence the differences in number, shape and workmanship of the vessels.

The Professor claims that her explanation is the only correct one. She emphasizes that her work showed the importance to study the archaeological finds in conjunction with other monuments.

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