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HOME > Exhibition > Permanent Exhibition > Thematic display > Exhibition of Bronze Mirrors of Ancient China
Exhibition of Bronze Mirrors of Ancient China
Preface

Since its first discovery from the Qijia Culture of the late Neolithic period in Gansu Province, over the 4,000-year long process of Chinese history, the bronze mirror had been an indispensable article of daily use until the introduction of the Western glass mirror into China by the middle of the Qing Dynasty. However, the beautiful designs on the reverse side of a bronze mirror are still able to tell us the life style of a certain historical period, and convey the aesthetic standards of people living at that time.

Unit One  Ingenious Bronze Mirrors of the Warring States Period

The production of bronze mirrors met its first peak during the Warring States period (475-221 BC). Not only had the decorative designs become sophisticated, but also the technical level rose continuously as demonstrated by the new technologies of pierced engraving and gold, silver or jade inlay.


Unit Two  Marvelous Bronze Mirrors of the Han Dynasty

The bronze mirrors had their another heyday during the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD), which formed a connecting link between the preceding Warring States period and the following Six Dynasties (222-589). The motif on the mirror became further diversified. Meanwhile, the casting technology tended towards perfection, making a sharp contrast with the decline of the manufacture of bronze ware in general. The mixture of bronze and tin in due proportions gave an extremely fine luster to the Han-Dynasty mirrors.

Unit Three  Spectacular Bronze Mirrors of the Sui and Tang Dynasties

Previous bronze mirrors were mostly circular; however, square mirrors, six-lobed mirrors and sunflower-shaped mirrors began to appear during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). In terms of decoration, by comparison with the somewhat stylized form of the Han Dynasty, the pattern design now was flexible and diversified, and the subject-matter was varied and colorful. More importantly, an exotic flavor added to the appeal of the gorgeous decorative style, reflecting the scene of prosperity of the flourishing Tang Dynasty. The Tang mirrors are also considered to be the most technically advanced owing to the appearance of new technologies such as mother-of-pearl inlay, covering the mirror with gold and silver foil, and so on.

Unit Four Elegant Bronze Mirrors of the Song Dynasty

The shape of the bronze mirror became further diversified during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). There were mirrors of different forms, such as bell-shaped mirrors, shield-shaped mirrors, tripod-shaped mirrors, peach-like mirrors and so on and so forth. The mirrors were usually engraved with patterns of flowers, birds, dragons, historical figures, symbols of the Eight Trigrams, auspicious expressions and trademarks. Both the mirrors with floral patterns and those with double phoenixes had a graceful charm of their own. Particularly, the flower-and-bird mirrors of the Northern Song (960-1127) and the mirrors with trademark designs of the Southern Song (1127-1279) clearly indicated a secularized trend in the decorative style.

Unit Five  Unconventional Bronze Mirrors of the Liao Dynasty

The bronze mirrors of the Liao Dynasty (916-1125) - a regime established by the Khitan people in northeast China - had a distinctive style of their own, despite the fact that some traces of the Han, Tang and Song mirrors can be found from them. The mirror with a tortoise-shell pattern was peculiar to the Khitan region. The mirror with a dragon motif was engraved with bold and vigorous touches, thus having very strong artistic appeal. The petal-shaped mirror with a chrysanthemum pattern displayed a tinge of romantic charm of the famous Song mirror carved with a design of interlaced branches and blooms.


Unit Six  Unsophisticated Bronze Mirrors of the Kin Dynasty

The bronze mirrors of the Kin Dynasty (1115-1234) - a regime established by the Jurchen people in northeast China - were rich in decorative designs, which included patterns popular in the Central Plains and those peculiar to the Jurchen region. For instance, the characteristic mirror with double fish reflected the fishing and hunting life-style of the Jurchen people. Comparing with the Song mirrors featuring delicate and graceful ornament, the Kin mirrors were characterized by a simple and vigorous carving style, hence giving viewers a new and refreshing feeling.


Unit Seven  Declining Industry of Bronze Mirror Manufacturing in the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties

Comparing with that of the Song and Kin, the mirror manufacturing industry of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) was on the wane. Decoration tended to be simple and crude. However, various mirrors inscribed with mystical formulae in Sanskrit for exorcising demons were peculiar to this period. The mirrors of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) were big and heavy in general, and were mostly round in shape with cylindrical, circular or silver ingot-shaped knobs. The Ming mirrors were usually inscribed with dates, manufacturer names or auspicious expressions, and carved with dragons, phoenixes, flowers and plants, or eight treasures symbolizing good luck. The mirrors of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) were commonly engraved with dragons, phoenixes, fish, lions playing with a colored silk ball, five bats representing happiness, or inscribed with the characters of double blessing. Although the industry of mirror manufacturing had further declined in the Ming-Qing period, there was no lack of exquisite mirrors made by imperial order, which were as graceful as before.


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