This bronze zun, a ritual wine vessel, has a body reminiscent of a foal and is adorned with a pair of horns and small wings on its belly. Its appearance and profound historical value enchant visitors to the China Archaeological Museum in Beijing.

The vessel represents the pinnacle of Western Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC – 771 BC) craftsmanship. It features a coiled-tailed tiger on top of its head, a phoenix on its back, and two coiled-tailed dragons on its chest and hip, with intricate and elaborate dragon, tiger, and spiral patterns adorning the entire vessel.

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On its belly, there is a six-character inscription indicating that it was a type of dowry of the Deng State and was used during political marriages in the Western Zhou Dynasty period, making it a testament to the ritual and political practices of its time.

Political marriages during the Western Zhou Dynasty

During the Western Zhou Dynasty in China, political marriages were highly ritualized ceremonies that not only united the families involved, but also had significant political implications.

Before marriage, negotiations took place between the families and states involved. The agreements included dowry and gifts, such as the bronze zun mentioned above, but also political and strategic terms for the alliance. This was the first phase of the ritual, where the commitment between the spouses was formalized.

The main wedding ceremony involved specific rituals according to the customs of the time. This could include processions, banquets, libations of ritual wine (using vessels such as the zun), and offerings to ancestors and gods to seek their blessing and protection over the union.

After the ceremony, the wife was taken to the husband’s house, marking her official integration into the family and community.

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