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The Bronze Mirror
The bronze mirror, like its modern glass counterpart, was a household article of daily use in which to look at oneself. Its obverse side is so smoothly polished that it can reflect the image of the user's face. The reverse side is often cast with a knob and decorations, so it is also an art object. Most of the authentic bronze mirrors are finds from ancient tombs; some have been handed down from generation to generation in old families.
Ancient Chinese began to use bronze mirrors in very remote times, at the latest in the 11th century B.C. in the late Shang Dynasty, as evidenced by five of them discovered in Tomb No.4 at the Yin Remains in Anyang, Henan Province.
The mirror became a popular object during the period of the Warring States. The mirror of this period is often found to bear one or two rings of decorations, the usual designs being animal masks, flowers and leaves, dragon and phoenix. During the Western Han, the mirror became thicker, and the popular, supernatural beings, birds and animals. It was also in this period that simple, short inscriptions appeared, such as keep me in mind, forget me not, perpetual fortune, endless joy or other words of good wishes. The form of the bronze mirror became more varied during the Song and the Yuan dynasties. It may be round, oblong, lozenge or octagonal, with or without a handle. During the Qing, it was gradually replaced by the glass mirror.
Of particular interest is a bronze mirror dating from the Western Han. With a diameter of 11.5 cm and patterns at the back, it looks no different from other mirrors except and inscription which reads: With light from the sun, the world is greatly illuminated. The strange thing about it is that, when a sunbeam falls on its smooth surface, its reflexion on the wall shows the design and inscription on the reverse side as if the light had penetrated the bronze. This phenomenon of the mirror had puzzled people, including scientists, over long ages, and it was called the magic mirror. A specimen of this mirror can be seen in the Shanghai Museum. Today, not only the strange reaction of the mirror to sunlight ahs been scientifically explained, but imitations have been made of it to amuse collectors.
Bonze mirrors, as usual funerary objects of ancient
times, are often found in old tombs. They are placed near the head of
chest of the dead or packed with combs in lacquer boxes
or pouches within easy reach. Some of them are found
at the top of the burial chamber or at the four corners of the coffin,
suggesting a belief that the mirror had the magic power of warding off
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