Fascinating tale of a bronze pan

The Guojizibai pan, a large bronze water vessel from the Shang (1600-1046 BC) and the Zhou (1046-256 BC) dynasties is the largest of its kind found in the world.

Guojizibai pan

Period: the Western Zhou dynasty (1046-771 BC)

Height: 39.5cm

Length: 137.2cm

Width: 86.5cm

Weight: about 215.5kg

Dating back 2,800 years, the Guojizibai pan, a large bronze water vessel from the Shang (1600-1046 BC) and the Zhou (1046-256 BC) dynasties is the largest of its kind found in the world.

It is listed as a cultural relic, forbidden to be exhibited abroad and is now held by the National Museum in Beijing.

Guojizibai was a governor during the reign of King Xuan of Zhou in the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046-771 BC). 

Guo was the surname conferred by the king. Ji means that he was the youngest among his brothers. Zi was a term of respect for noblemen in ancient China. Bai was his given name.

On the bottom of the pan, 111 Chinese characters are inscribed in eight lines. 

The inscription written in rhyme documents that Guojizibai, under the orders of the king, led an army to fight against the Xianyun, an ancient nomadic tribe. He routed the enemy as was richly rewarded by King Xuan.

To commemorate the honor, Guojizibai ordered the bronze ware.

The Guojizibai pan, like a bathtub, is rectangular with curved corners. Each side of the vessel has a pair of rope-like ring handles decorated with the heads of a mythical creature. 

The rim is engraved with qiequ patterns, which is evolved from dragon and bird patterns. The body is embellished with wave patterns.


Each side of the pan has a pair of rope-like ring handles decorated with the heads of a mythical creature. 

Excavated from Baoji in Shaanxi Province during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the ritual bronze was collected by a county magistrate called Xu Xie and taken to his hometown, Changzhou in Jiangsu Province.

It was captured during the Taiping Rebellion (1850-64) and then taken by Liu Mingchuan who headed the troops that ended the rebellion.

One night he heard a sharp metal knocking sound. Following the sound, Liu approached a stable and figured out that the sound came from the bronze “manger.”

Looking carefully, Liu found that the big and heavy “manger” with dim but elaborate patterns was unusual.

The next morning, Liu asked people to clean the “manger” which was so heavy that needed four people to lift it. 

He was sure that the bronze was extraordinary and thus he despatched some trusted followers to send it back home to Liulaoxu Village in Anhui Povince along with a letter giving strict instructions to keep quiet about the piece.

Liu returned to the village after retiring from the army in 1871.

He invited some scholars who were familiar with ancient Chinese characters to decipher the inscription and learned about the origin of the bronze pan.

To protect the treasure, Liu built a “Pan Pavilion” specially for it. He also wrote a book called “Panting Xiaolu”, literally meaning a record of “Pan Pavilion,” demonstrating the construction process of the pavilion and information about the Guojizibai pan.

But he kept the piece locked away and nobody else could see it. Even the request of Emperor Guangxu’s teacher was politely declined.

In 1885, leaving the treasure at home, Liu arrived in Taiwan as grand coordinator. Ten years later, he returned to private life.

Unfortunately the 60-year-old man died the next year.

On his deathbed, Liu entrusted a descendant to protect the Guojizibai pan.

During the 1911 Revolution and China’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression from 1931 to 1945, warlords and foreign antique dealers raided Liu’s home in search of his treasures.

But Liu Suzeng, the fourth-generation successor of Liu Mingchuan, took charge of protecting the Guojizibai pan.

In the late 1930s, Li Pinxian, a Kuomintang general, told Liu Suzeng that the government would take a better care of the treasure. He wanted Liu Suzeng to hand over the Guojizibai pan. However, Liu Suzeng told Li that the treasure was lost.

Li did not believe him.

Liu’s family was threatened by a battalion commander and harassed by a county leader.

Despite ransacking the house and pulling up floors, no one could find the vessel. However, it had been hidden in the courtyard.

Liu Suzeng had secretly hidden the treasure in a 3-meter-deep hole and planted a pagoda tree and grass to cover it.

After the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Liu Suzeng decided to donate the Guojizibai pan to the government.

The little pagoda sapling had grown into an 8-meter-tall towering tree. Cutting down the tree, Liu Suzeng unearthed and handed over the historical treasure which had accompanied the Liu family for 86 years.

In 1977, Liu Suzeng passed away in Hefei, Anhui Province. 

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