Copper and Bronze in Ancient China

Several thousand years before the Christian era a flourishing civilization existed in Hindustan, and sites on the Indus are now being systematically examined. Farther east, in China, the general use of metals dates back to at least 2000 B.C., and by 1200 B.C. bronze foundrywork had reached a high state of perfection. There exist whole series of magnificently ornamented bronze vessels of that time, both useful and ceremonial; some are illustrated in Figs. 8 and 9.

Figure 8 Figure 9
Figure 8. The shape of this Chinese bronze kettle is not unlike its modern counterpart. It is 10 3/4 in. high and was originally inlaid with gold and silver. Figure 9. Now in the possession of the Royal Ontario Museum, Canada, these copper knives and spearheads are believed to date from around 3000 B.C.

The Chinese adhered to fixed percentages of tin in their bronzes, and they also freely added a quantity of lead. An ancient book entitled K'ao kung chi mentions copper as the metal par excellence. It gives the following analyses of alloys for various purposes:

Cauldrons and bells 5 parts of copper to 1 of tin
Axes 4 parts of copper to 1 of tin
Halberds and spears 3 parts of copper to 1 of tin
Swords and knives 2 parts of copper to 1 of tin
Erasing knives and arrows 3 parts of copper to 2 of tin
Mirrors and specula 1 parts of copper to 1 of tin

In the earlier types of Chinese metalwork the ornamentation on the surface was an integral part of the casting; but by the 7th Century B.C. such objects were often engraved and then inlaid very skillfully with gold, silver, turquoises and other precious stones.

Although the Chinese claim to have used coins for money thousands of years before the Christian Era, none has been found which is earlier than the 3rd Century B. C. By then their well-known 'cash' had been introduced; this comprised copper discs with square holes in the centre through which string was threaded. This type of coinage lasted in China right down to the 20th Century.