Mao Gong Ding

Mao Gong Ding



9th~8th centuries B.C.
From the Xia to the Qin dynasties, particularly during the Shang and Zhou period (16th century-476 B.C.), dings were used widely as ritual vessels and became hierarchical symbols that "distinguished the dignified from the humble and the superior from the subordinate." In the Western Zhou Dynasty (11th century-770 B.C.), the number of dings permitted for use by different ranks of the nobility was specified. The emperor had nine, dukes and princes were allotted seven, high-ranking officials were permitted five, and lower officials were allowed three or one. As well as its use in worship and ritual ceremonies, the ding was also used to record the merits of its owner. Such records were often closely related to important events and historic personages and therefore have great historic value. The most famous engraved ding was unearthed in 1851 during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) from Mount Qi in Shaanxi. According to the 497 characters engraved on its surface, the ding originally belonged to Mao Gong, who was a relative of the ruler of the Zhou Dynasty. As the government of the time was weak and incompetent, the emperor ordered him to rectify matters and conferred special powers on him. In order to encourage him to work hard and love his people, the ruler also sent Mao Gong various ceremonial articles, a chariot and horses, and weapons. Mao Gong cast the ding to record the event and to express his gratitude.

Such records, in the form of metal inscriptions, also provide material for the study of the development of the Chinese written language and calligraphy. They are finely engraved in pictographic, greater zhuan (widely used in the Zhou Dynasty) and lesser zhuan (developed from the greater zhuan and widely used in the Qin Dynasty) styles. The inscription on the Mao Gong ding is considered a masterpiece of the Zhou Dynasty and is an essential model for students of calligraphy.The inscription records an authentic history, which is very precious. It also bears great artistic and literary values.