The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in Art & History

Houmuwu Ding


“The Houmuwu Ding”  is a massive bronze sacrificial vessel. A ding is a sacrificial vessel and this one is a common type of Chinese ritual bronzes of the ancient Chinese Shang dynasty. It is the largest piece of bronze work found anywhere in the ancient world. This ding is named based on the inscription in bronze interior wall, which reads Hòumǔwù, meaning “Queen Mother Wu”.

Ding are ancient Chinese cauldrons, standing upon legs with a lid and two facing handles. They were made in two shapes: round vessels with three legs and rectangular ones with four. They were used for cooking, storage, and ritual offerings to the gods or to ancestors. The ding and the privilege to perform the associated rituals became symbols of authority. The number of permitted ding varied according to one’s rank in the Chinese nobility.

Liu Ding

A round ding vessels with three legs. Late Shang Dynasty, Shanghai Museum

Houmuwu Ding is of the rectangular type, with four legs. Compared to earlier ding, this one is wider and thicker. Each side has a blank space in the middle, surrounded by a band of decoration featuring animal faced creatures and dragons. There are two handles, decorated with tigers facing each other, their jaws closing around a human head.

Essential Facts:

  • Title:                   Houmuwu Ding, also known as Simuwu Ding (wine vessel)
  • Chinese:             后母戊鼎
  • Year:                   1300 – 1046 BC
  • Period:               Late Shang Dynasty
  • Findsite:            Wuguan Village, Anyang, Henan, China
  • Discovered:      1939
  • Material:           Bronze
  • Dimensions:     Height 133 cm, width 112 cm, depth 79.2 cm, weight 875 kg.
  • Museum:           The National Museum of China


“It is easy to find a thousand soldiers, but hard to find a good general.” Chinese Proverb



Photo Credit: By Mlogic (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Mountain (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons