History of Sitting on the Ground - From the Xia Dynasty to the Western Zhou Dynasty

From the Xia Dynasty to the Western Zhou Dynasty, people were still sitting on the ground. There are many documents handed down during this period, but fewer tombs were found, so I can only glimpse some of the behavior of people at that time from the funeral items that have been excavated. I did not find seats in the archaeological articles of this period, so I guess that people were still using similar mats that have been used in ancient times during this period.

The jade sculpture is a noble figure sitting on knees unearthed from a Shang Dynasty tomb. During this period, strict etiquette and high-level funerary objects, such as jade and bronze, belonged to the nobility. Perhaps it cannot fully reflect the life of the general people at that time, but it gives some clues about the behavior at that time.

The Jade Sculpture

Kneeling was the formal sitting structure at the time; this seemingly uncomfortable pose was a result of strict ethics and education, which required it as a sign of their dignified position. However, the underlying cause of this sitting position is most likely because there was no trouser at the Shang Dynasty. There was a long piece of cloth in front of the body, so perhaps this posture could better cover the body when sitting down.

During this period, people entered the Bronze Age and were able to make bronze furniture decorated with exquisite patterns. Although the utensils found in the tombs are all sacrificial articles, they also largely represent the daily necessities of the time. Fig11 & 12 showing two utensils called “Gui (簋)”, mainly used to hold cooked grain. Regardless of the meaning of the patterns and the shapes, looking at these two Guis from the perspective of usage behavior, they are also in line with the habits of sitting on the ground at that time. First of all, they are equipped with handles, in order to more easily lift and move. Secondly, they all add bases compared with the pots from primitive society. When people sit on their knees and use these appliances, they can reduce the number of times the user needs to bend at the waist and back, making it easier to use.

Fig. 11. Zi Gui (鼒簋)

Fig. 12. Tianwang Gui (天亡簋)

In addition to the utensils used to hold the rice, there was also a

specific piece of furniture for cutting meat and serving meat during this period, called “Zu ( 俎 )” (Fig. 13). It is conceivable that people knelt on the ground to cut meat and lifted the Zu during the sacrifice. During this

period, the Zu was designed with a raised edge around the top surface, mainly to hold the blood.

Fig. 13. Zu with Bells

At the Metropolitan Museum in New York, I was fortunate enough to see this group (Fig. 14), the only set of Jin ( 禁 ) and coexisting wine vessels in the world. Jin refers to the box-shaped device in the middle of the photo, used as a base on which to put the wine vessels. Other objects also have their own functions, some for holding wine, one for warming wine, and some for drinking. So why did the Jin appear? Perhaps in terms of form, in order to coordinate with other appliances, such as the Gui, it was necessary to raise the height of the wine container. In terms of usage, the Jin is used with lower pieces such as wine cups, which is equivalent to adding a base.

Tombs in this period have strict requirements, and these funerary items were all discovered in nobles’ tombs. Although it is a pity that there is no more evidence to guess the daily life of ordinary people, these items are a valuable reference representing the most advanced technology in the era.

Fig. 14. Fan Jin (柉禁) with Coexisting Wine Vessels

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