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.
The angular contours of this vessel distinguish it from other vessels used to hold liquids for ceremonial use. Its large voluminous shape with a protruding belly and tapered neck make it suitable for storage as well. This refined fang hu is essentially unadorned, save for two decorative Tao Tieh mask handles that have been attached to the swelling body. These stylized animals represent a type of dragon found in Chinese mythology. Their abstracted representation demonstrates, as well as the incised patterns, the influence of previous styles such as the Zhou Dynasty. This vessel also comes equipped with a decorative lid mounted with highly stylized “s”-shaped images of animals, possibly of a snake or swan.
Over the ages, the bronze has acquired a fabulous patina of rich green hues, adding both delightful colors and pleasing textures to this otherwise sparsely adorned vessel. Bronze vessels served an important role in the world of rites and ritual as well as in the realm of men who longed for expensive bronze ware to demonstrate their power and prestige. Although this vessel would have served as a wine container, it was found discovered buried in a tomb. A symbol for the bountiful pleasures of life, for drinking and feasting, this fang 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 Warring States that flourished in spite of the chaotic nature of the times.