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Bronze -- Alloyed with Tradition

Some people say the creation of the TV remote control is the greatest advancement in human civilization over the last few millennia. Others insist the development of bronze is a more important social milestone because it marks humanity's emergence from the Stone Age.


Bronze is an alloy of copper, tin and a small amount of lead. The hard, enduring quality of the metal has ensured its survival to today.


In recent years, many bronze masks have been unearthed in the renowned Sanxingdui Ruins in southwest China's Sichuan Province. These masks have revealed information about the rituals and customs of ancient times. But these masterpieces are only tip of the bronze age iceberg.


The oldest bronze ware ever dug up are these daggers. They suggest that the metal appeared in China no later than 4,000 years ago.


It didn't take long for bronze casting to take off. Huge bronze human figures have been found from the Yin and Zhou periods.


Researchers have also uncovered a huge range of artifacts shaped from the metal. Here stands a bronze zun, a kind of wine vessel. It is 60 cm high and, even today, historians are puzzled by how its makers managed to fashion it with such a light touch.


This is a square pod. None of these relieves of human faces looks the same and some even look a little like westerners.


This is a gilded head sculpture from the Sanxingdui Ruins. The weird shape indicates it may have been a mask.


Nobody knows and is sure that how much bronze ware there is in China. There's already said to be more than 10,000 bronze artifacts with inscriptions dating back 2,000 years. There's even more with inscriptions.


Some things set China's tradition of bronze ware apart.


First up is the inscriptions. China is one of the few countries with its characters inscribed on the object. The calligraphy is artistry in itself.


In addition, almost all bronze ware is used as receptacles, rather than weapons or tools. Casting receptacles posed a real challenge. It was a challenge early craftsmen and women who lived up to so much so that their talent has survived the test of time.


(CCTV.com August 26, 2003)

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