Hsi-tsun: Silhouette of an Ox-like Mythical Beast

By National Palace Museum

Hsi-tsun with turquoise, malachite, and gold inlay, Anonymous, -0375/-0276, From the collection of: National Palace Museum
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Zun vase in the shape of an animal, Anonymous, 4th-3rd centuries BCE, From the collection of: National Palace Museum
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Hsi-Tsun (detail) (-0400/-0201) by AnonymousNational Palace Museum

Tsun and Hsi-Tsun

Tsun is often used as a general term for bronze ritual vessels, while hsi-tsun (xizun) refers specifically to animal-shaped vessels. 

Hsi-tsun with turquoise, malachite, and gold inlay (detail) (-0375/-0276) by AnonymousNational Palace Museum

Brilliant Techniques

For artistic effects, bronzes were further decorated with inlay of various metals (copper, gold) or beautiful stones (turquoise, malachite).

Hsi-tsun with turquoise, malachite, and gold inlay (detail) (-0375/-0276) by AnonymousNational Palace Museum

During the Warring States period (453-221 B.C.), bronze casters frequently adorned their creations with turquoise inlay.

Hsi-tsun with turquoise, malachite, and gold inlay, Anonymous, -0375/-0276, From the collection of: National Palace Museum
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There are only a few known examples of animal-shaped wine vessels that can be attributed to state ancestral temples of the Warring States era, which makes this fine, heavy-bodied tsun particularly rare.

Hsi-tsun with turquoise, malachite, and gold inlay (-0375/-0276) by AnonymousNational Palace Museum

Judging from its stocky profile and hoofs, the vessel appears to represent a water buffalo.

Hsi-tsun with turquoise, malachite, and gold inlay (-0375/-0276) by AnonymousNational Palace Museum

However, the absence of horns and the raised, long, and sharply pointed ears may also suggest a rhinoceros whose nose horn has been cut away.

Hsi-tsun with turquoise, malachite, and gold inlay (-0375/-0276)National Palace Museum

According to recent archaeological evidence, rhinoceroses inhabited the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River during the Shang and Chou dynasties.

Hsi-tsun with turquoise, malachite, and gold inlay (detail) (-0375/-0276) by AnonymousNational Palace Museum

The vessel, measuring 28.5 centimeters in height and weighing 5.21 kilograms, bears a removable lid on its back and a spout at its mouth.

Hsi-tsun with turquoise, malachite, and gold inlay (detail) (-0375/-0276) by AnonymousNational Palace Museum

The thick neck is decorated with a gilded band and the area around its eye is inlaid with turquoise.

Hsi-tsun with turquoise, malachite, and gold inlay (detail) (-0375/-0276) by AnonymousNational Palace Museum

The entire vessel is further adorned with diagonal "lei wen" (thunder patterns) and gold and silver inlay, giving it a spirited quality that is at once detailed, natural, and unassuming.

Hsi-tsun with turquoise, malachite, and gold inlay (-0375/-0276) by AnonymousNational Palace Museum

Openwork and lozenge-pattern also prevailed, among many other fancy techniques, all adding to the brilliance of the work.

Zun vase in the shape of an animal (detail) (4th-3rd Century B.C.) by AnonymousNational Palace Museum

Animal-shaped Flower vessels

Animal-shaped "zun" were ceremonial wine containers used during the Shang and Zhou dynasties. Animal-shaped flower vessels appeared in the Yuan dynasty and entered common use during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Zun vase in the shape of an animal (4th-3rd Century B.C.) by AnonymousNational Palace Museum

This animal-shaped "tsun" (zun) has a flat belly and short legs.

Zun vase in the shape of an animal (4th-3rd Century B.C.) by AnonymousNational Palace Museum

Its two ears point upright and the eyes look straight ahead. Above the eyes are turquoise inlaid brows and around the neck is a band of gem stones.

Zun vase in the shape of an animal (4th-3rd Century B.C.) by AnonymousNational Palace Museum

The entire body is covered with a metal inlay of cloud and thunder motifs.

Zun vase in the shape of an animal (4th-3rd Century B.C.) by AnonymousNational Palace Museum

During the Shang and Zhou dynasties this animal-shaped "zun" would have been a ceremonial wine container, with a lid on the back to fill it; the wine would have been poured through the neck and out through the mouth.

Zun vase in the shape of an animal (4th-3rd centuries BCE) by AnonymousNational Palace Museum

The original lid has been replaced by a metal inner liner with plum-shaped opening to hold flowers. It is likely that this modification took place after the reign of the Yongzheng emperor during the Qing dynasty.

Zun vase in the shape of an animal, Anonymous, 4th-3rd Century B.C., From the collection of: National Palace Museum
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Animal-shaped flower vessels appeared during the Yuan dynasty and entered common use during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Guangdong Tapestry Antiquarian Study (detail), From the collection of: National Palace Museum
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An example can be found in "Guangdong Tapestry Antiquarian Study" from the late Ming dynasty, in which a yellow chrysanthemum appears in a three-legged rooster shaped zun.

Credits: Story

National Palace Museum

Works Cited:
Chiu-fang Lin ed., National Palace Museum Guidebook (Taipei: Acoustiguide, 2003), 35.
Yuh-Shiow Chen ed., Floral Art for Pleasure-Appreciation of Flower Vessels and Lifestyle (Taipei: National Palace Museum, 2019).

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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