According to Wikipedia's Incense and Incense in China articles "At around 2000 BCE, Ancient China began the use of incense in the religious sense, namely for worship. Incense was used by Chinese cultures from Neolithic times and became more widespread in the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties. The earliest documented use of incense comes from the ancient Chinese, who employed incense composed of herbs and plant products (such as cassia, cinnamon, styrax, and sandalwood) as a component of numerous formalized ceremonial rites."

According to Wikipedia's Chinese ritual bronze article, there was a "Lú (鑪): A brazier. These are a nebulously classified group of bronze vessels and there are a number of forms: A. It may similar to a dǐng (鼎) with very short legs sitting on a pán (盤); or B., a duì (敦) on a pán (盤); or C., like a dòu (豆) on a pán (盤)."

But according to Ben Janssens Oriental Art, "According to the Ge Gu Yao Lun (‘Essential Criteria of Antiquities’), which was compiled by Cao Zhao in 1388, archaic bronze vessels were never used as incense burners."

I can find various bronze Ding vessels from the Shang-Zhou period, but can never confirm which vessels if any were used as braziers or censers for incense, since they are considered food vessels. I have come across this pottery burner said to be Shang Dynasty, as well as this absolutely amazing bronze said to be a Shang Dynasty Royal Imperial Court Room Incense Burner. There is plenty of stuff on eBay and other sites claiming to be Shang Dynasty incense vessels, but one can not trust such sources, obviously.

I would like to know more about the Shang & Zhou incense rituals, specifically if bronze vessels were used for incense or if the Ming Dynasty ‘Essential Criteria of Antiquities’ of Cao Zhao is correct in saying no bronze vessels were used for incense in the archaic period. And I'd be glad for any links to scholarly articles dealing with the specifics of this subject.

  • 1
    This article briefly mentions possible Zhou incense burners, with photos. Also see this item at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
    – Brian Z
    Jul 17, 2020 at 13:03
  • 1
    You might try “Early Chinese Religion”, published by Brill, 2009. Volume 1 deals with Shang through Han dynasties. The other is of course Wilkinson’s “Chinese History - A Manual” (Harvard University Press), updated often.
    – J Asia
    Jul 21, 2020 at 2:45


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