Whereas before, war was characterized as a civilized contest between aristocratic armies, during the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.), war evolved into the chaotic conflict we know it as today. Kings and princes were replaced on the battlefield by infantries lead by military generals. Peasants were recruited to serve on the front lines. Warfare intensified, especially in terms of the duration of campaigns. New arms and armor were invented, including the halberd and crossbow. Chariots rode alongside archers outfitted in iron helmets and body armor. Defensive walls were erected in order to repel invaders. However, despite the turmoil of the times, the arts continued to thrive. Bronze casting was revolutionized by the introduction of the lost-wax technique, while the alterations of kiln structures enabled new firing techniques that resulted in fully developed glazes.
This bronze hu would have functioned as a ritual container for the storage and transport of sumptuous wines. The surface of the body has been divided by three groups of horizontal bands. Two decorative Tao Tieh mask handles have been attached to the lower shoulder of the hu. These stylized animal heads depict a type of dragon found in Chinese mythology. Their abstracted representation demonstrates the influence of previous styles such as the Zhou Dynasty. Over the ages, the bronze has acquired a fabulous patina of alternating green and turquoise hues, adding both delightful colors and pleasing textures to this otherwise sparsely adorned vessel.
Such a work, forged from bronze, would have been the treasured possession of an elite member of the social hierarchy. Quite simply, only a court nobility of wealthy merchants could afford such a luxury. Although this vessel would have functioned as a wine container in life, it was found discovered buried in a tomb. A symbol for the bountiful pleasures of life, for drinking and feasting, this hu would have represented the joys to be experienced in the afterlife and the feasts and celebrations yet to come. Today, this vessel is not only a gorgeous work of art, treasured for its history and rarity; but also a stunning reminder of the richness and luxury of the ancient China, both in this world and the next.