For over 3,700 years, bronzes have been cast in China. Most bronzes from the Bronze Age in China, around 1500–300 BC, may be regarded as ceremonial containers designed for the worship of ancestors, who are frequently referenced in inscriptions on the bronzes. The earliest written references to bronzes come from orations by Confucius; he praised the ritual importance of vessels for sacrifice.
Bronze was probably first invented in China. By 300 BC, it was widely used for tools, weapons, and art objects. It was also used as an alloy for silverware at this time. The word "bronze" comes from the Greek broussa, which means workroom or factory. In Europe, bronze first came into use around 1400 BC. It was believed that the world was exhausted of any more valuable metals so people just assumed that anything worth having must be made of bronze.
As with many other ancient technologies, we know very little about bronze casting before the Chinese developed their skills. The best evidence so far suggests that they learned how to make bronze from foreigners. Castings found in Thailand and Vietnam have similarities with Chinese bronzes of the same period. They may have come from the same source, but this has not been proven yet.
In any case, China became one of the leading producers of bronze.
Many were cast specifically to memorialize significant milestones in their owners' lives. Others were used as gifts for friends and allies.
They are usually about the size of a small coffee mug and have an average weight of between 5 and 20 grams (0.18 and 0.88 oz). The metal used in Chinese bronzes is typically copper with some zinc added for stability. However, metals such as silver, gold, and palladium have also been used successfully.
Bronze was originally valued because it could be melted down and re-used instead of being destroyed after use. It was only later that people began seeing its aesthetic value.
The earliest known examples of Chinese bronze ware date back to about 1500 B.C. but even before then, some metal objects (such as weapons) had been used for ceremonial purposes. By about 1000 B.C., however, most countries of Asia had developed sophisticated techniques for producing fine metal work. It is believed that most of these craftsmen came from Central Asia where metallurgy has always been important.
China's early bronze makers mostly copied styles from cultures around them; they did not develop any unique characteristics of their own until much later.
Further east, in China, metals had been used since at least 2000 B.C., and bronze foundrywork had reached a high level of perfection by 1200 B.C. There is a plethora of brilliantly decorated bronze containers from that era, both utilitarian and ceremonial, some of which are seen in Figs. 1-4.
Bronze is an alloy of copper with zinc or tin. It is hard enough to be used for tools and weapons, but also becomes red when heated like iron. The Chinese invented the technique of melting minerals together to make alloys around 3000 B.C., long before the Iron Age began in Europe.
Bronze was originally used for tools and weapons. As it gets hot when you use it, it would break down over time and need replacing. That's why ancient swords have blades that wear out over time while axes can stay usable for much longer.
As people started to live more settled lives, they needed containers for storing food and water, medicine, and other necessities. They also used bronze for jewelry and ornamentation.
In China, bronze first appeared about 2000 B.C. and became popular among the elite from about 1000 B.C. until about 500 B.C. When iron came along in the Middle East, it quickly replaced bronze because it was easier to work with and it could be shaped into knives, spears, and arrows.
The Bronze Age in China was ruled by the Shang and Zhou Dynasties. The first Chinese bronzes were manufactured using the "piece-mold casting" process, as opposed to the lost-wax approach employed by all other Bronze Age countries. In piece-mold casting, a model of the object to be cast is created, and a clay mold of the model is created. Metal shavings or powdered metal are placed in the mold, and liquid alloy is poured into the mold. The heat from the molten metal causes the mold to harden instantaneously, leaving an exact copy of the original model.
Bronze has many uses in modern technology. It is used in everything from jewelry to weapons to machinery components. However, it was originally designed as an economical substitute for silverware on ancient ceremonial objects like knives and tools. Even today, bronze remains more affordable than gold or platinum.
Bronze is a mixture of copper and zinc. Although copper is usually thought of as the primary component, between 15% and 50% zinc is included in most bronze recipes. The proportion of each element varies depending on how long you want the object to last. Copper has the advantage of being easy to work with and very flexible. It can be hammered into shapes without breaking. Zinc adds weight to the alloy while also making it harder. The elements are mixed together with some organic materials such as wood or hemp, which act as binders. The mixture is then molded into the desired shape and allowed to dry before being heated in a furnace.