Jun Ya gui

1045-771 B.C.

Bronze vase decorated with bird designs and Chinese inscriptions on the interior.

Vase dont l’intérieur est décoré de motifs d’oiseaux et d’inscriptions chinoises.

Private Collection
18cm x 34.2cm|diameter 22.1cm|4.2kg
Jun ya inscription
Exhibition image of vase

The Jun Ya gui first came to light in the 1670s or 80s. It is a two-handled bronze gui vessel, 18 cm high, 34.2 cm wide, mouth diameter 22.1 cm, weight 4.2 kg. Its flowing bird designs, and other features are characteristic of a middle Western Zhou (1045-771 B.C.) style. Although modern scholars clearly recognize it as a forgery based on the fact that it was not cast using piece-molds, but rather using the lost-wax method (which was not in use during the Western Zhou period), and numerous subtle stylistic anachronisms, knowledge of forging methods was not advanced enough during the Qing period (1644-1911) for scholars to detect the falsity of the vessel from its appearance. Although many unconvincing fakes were produced during the Qing, the Jun Ya gui was a high-quality forgery. Even more than the vessel, however, was the quality of the inscription cast on the interior of the vessel, which was written in a perfect imitation of genuine Western Zhou bronze inscriptions, both in the script used and in the layout of the writing.  Although we do not know who created it, it is clear that only very highly educated scholars of bronze inscriptions could have created such a vessel. Here is the text of the inscription, translated into English:

“In the 6th month, first auspiciousness, yiyou day, at the Kang palace. The King spoke thus ‘Oh! Jun Ya, your grandfather and your father, one after the other, with a true loyalty and honesty, harbored in the service of the royal house, accomplishing a merit which was recorded on the great banner.  I, who am but a little child, have inherited the charge of government transmitted from kings Wen and Wu. The trembling anxiety of my mind makes me feel as if I were treading on a tiger’s tail or walking on spring ice. I now give you charge to assist me; be as my limbs to me, as my heart and back-bone. Continue their old service and do not disgrace your grandfather and father.’ The king then awarded Jun Ya with one vessel of aromatic wine made of black millet, one red bow and one hundred red arrows and a hemmed jacket. Jun Ya in response extols the king’s beneficence and herewith makes for his cultured deceased father this treasured sacrificial vessel. May for ten thousand years his sons’ sons and grandsons’ grandsons eternally treasure and use it.”

It was fairly common in the Western Zhou for officials to inscribe their appointments to office on bronze vessels, and this is a fairly standard investiture inscription, purporting to have been created by Jun Ya in order to include the praise given him by King Mu. The reason this inscription is interesting is that the investiture of Jun Ya by king Mu (r. 956-918 B.C.E.) is recorded in the Jun Ya chapter of the Book of History, a chapter now known to be a forgery, and the words spoken by the king in the inscription are identical to his words in the Jun Ya  chapter. The vessel was forged in order to prove that this chapter was an authentic Western Zhou document.

The Book of History (also referred to as the Classic of Documents, among other names), is one of the five “Confucian” classics; works that were required reading for virtually all students and scholars throughout Chinese history. The oldest parts of the work were probably composed in the mid 11th century B.C.E., but various other chapters were forged at various periods. During the Qing period a vigorous debate occurred between those scholars who believed the entire text to be authentic, and those who claimed that a quarter of the work (including the Jun Ya chapter) was systematically forged in the early 4th century A.D.