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Chinese Spirit Vessels

Chinese drinking culture has a very long history and attracts people from all over the world. Meanwhile, Chinese spirit vessels are especially delicate and impressive. A common Chinese phrase “No drinking without a drinking vessel” shows how important the vessels are in the drinking culture.


Chinese spirit vessels are classified according to their material, the alcohol suitable for the vessel, usage, the shape or capacity and others. The most common materials of Chinese spirit vessels are bronze, lacquer, and porcelain. There were also classical and valuable Chinese spirit vessels being made from gold, silver, jade, cloisonné and even ivory.


Bronze Chinese spirit vessels

A bronze vessel is a classical type of Chinese spirit vessel, which was mainly used during the Shang and Zhou dynasties. Thanks to advances in alcohol brewing technology, Chinese spirit vessels paced into a golden age during this period. There were 50 kinds of bronze during Shang and Zhou dynasties, while 24 of those were used in the production of spirit vessels. Bronze spirit vessels had many uses including vessels for warming spirits, for containing spirits, for drinking spirits, for storing spirits and also for sacrificial purposes. It’s also worth noting that different types of vessel were used for different occasions, with more expensive vessels naturally used during events with more importance.


Chinese spirit vessels, especially bronze vessels, are always carved with zoomorphic designs such as goats, tigers, elephants, oxen, rhinoceroses, or Taotie, a mythical animal that is one of the nine sons of dragon.



Lacquer Chinese spirit vessels

Lacquer vessels was a popular kind of Chinese spirit vessels during the Qin and Han dynasties. The shape of lacquer vessels somewhat inherited the style of bronze vessels, and were mainly used for containing and drinking spirits. Most lacquer vessels had an “ear”; a handle fixed to the side of a drinking vessel. Meanwhile, people of the Han Dynasty usually sat on the floor when drinking so spirit vessels were also set on the floor. Therefore, Chinese spirit vessels that were made from lacquer during the Han Dynasty were mostly short and plump.


Porcelain Chinese spirit vessels

Porcelain vessels started to be used during the East Han Dynasty. In the Tang Dynasty, people mostly drank around a table, so they started to produce porcelain vessels that could be set on tables. At that time, a new kind of Chinese spirit vessel emerged, which was named “Pianti”. It was a flagon-like vessel with a handle and a spout, which could be used as a container for spirits as well as being used for pouring them. The “Pianti” gradually took the place of previous spirit containers and ladles. Porcelain spirit vessels are still used to this day.


Other Chinese spirit vessels

There was a unique type of Chinese spirit vessel named “Yeguangbei”, a pair of luminous jade cup. A very famous poem contains the line “…enjoying beautiful grape wine in a Yeguangbei”. Therefore, the Yeguangbei’s main purpose became the vessel for grape wine drinking. After the Qing Dynasty, the diversity of Chinese spirit vessels constantly increased. Nowadays, Chinese people use drinking vessels made of glass, porcelain, silver, bamboo, jade, cloisonné, etc. with various decorations and shapes.