More than a Game / A LARGE AND RARE BRONZE 'CASH' SIX-TUBED ARROW VASE, TOUHU Yuan/Ming Dynasty
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A LARGE AND RARE BRONZE 'CASH' SIX-TUBED ARROW VASE, TOUHU
The compressed globular body pierced with four coin-shaped motifs divided by projecting flanges, the tall cylindrical neck encircled by six tubular lug handles each cast with characters representing the Six Arts in relief on a leiwen ground, its mid-section similarly pierced with a pair of three overlapping coins between raised bow-strings above pendent cicada blades also around the splayed and stepped foot, the dark reddish-brown patina with some greenish and ochre mottling. 51cm (20 1/8in) high, 8.2kg.
Phillips, London, 16 December 1993
The Brian Harkins Collection
Bronze arrow vases cast with the 'six accomplishments' or liuyi are very rare. The six characters cast on the vase refer to the six accomplishments that a Confucian scholar should learn as defined in the chapter 'Baoshi' (保氏Grand Guardian), 'Diguran' (地官 Official of Earth) in the book Zhouli (周禮Zhou rituals) from the Zhou dynasty. They include the five rituals, six types of music, five skills of archery, five skills in steering the chariot, six methods of writing, and the nine methods of arithmetic.
It may seem unusual that a vase used to play a game should be endowed with such serious accomplishments, but scholars in the Song dynasty such as Si Maguang, conceived of the arrow vase as an instrument for cultivating the moral self by introducing the norms of Confucianism into the game. The throwing of arrows into a vase was seen as related to archery - one of the six arts - and was not so much a game to be won or lost, but a vehicle for complex ritual. See a related discussion by Wang Ti, mentioning that the game could revive the spirit of ancient Confucian rituals and bring us joy in Touhu Yijie, Beijing, 1985, pp.3-4.
Playing a game with arrow vases was not a frivolous occasion but a serious and solemn affair involving complex rules and Confucian rituals of behaviour. For example, if play is between two people, they each have a number of arrows; the senior can place his on the ground, something the younger should not do out of deference. If the junior wins the game, he cannot ask the senior player to kneel, but expect him only to raise his wine cup. If the senior drinks, it has to be from a rhinoceros horn cup, but the younger can only use a jue etc. In this way, the game is more concerned with Confucian ritual and etiquette than winning or losing. See G.Tsang and H.Moss, Arts from the Scholar's Studio, Hong Kong, 1986, p.268.