Bronze vessels. Containers of food and drink for ritual use, produced from the Shang to the Chou dynasties in China. The bronzes are perhaps most famous for the so-called t'aot'ieh (‘ogre masks’), which show, in split representation, an animal with a single head and two bodies extending out more or less flatly toward the two adjoining sides of the vessel. For the most part, scholars have seen in these motifs symbols of life renewal, fecundity, sacred sovereignty, and cosmic order; but equally, these zoomorphic forms may represent animal helpers or ‘familiars’ connected with shamanistic activities which were of great importance in ancient China for communicating between Heaven and Earth.
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