The Eastern Chou period refers to the 550 years between the transfer of the capital of the Chou royal house to Lo-yang in 771 B.C. and the unification of China by the First Emperor of Ch'in in 221 B.C. The Eastern Chou is further divided into the Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period at around 450 B.C. By the Eastern Chou period, the Western Chou feudal system, under which the lords of the various states recognized the suzerainty of the Chou king, was in disintegration, and the regional lords contended with each other to increase their domains and gain hegemony. The Chou ritual system that had symbolized and perpetuated the feudal hierarchy gradually eroded, and from the great lords of states down to lesser officials, many no longer observed the Chou rituals and roles appropriate to their positions─a situation lamented in traditional historiography as the "collapse of propriety and music."
From 1935 to 1937, the Institute carried out a series of excavations in Honan Province at Shan-piao-chen, in Chi-hsien, and Liu-li-ko, in Hui-hsien, uncovering a number of undisturbed large tombs dating to the time of the great social and political changes of the Eastern Chou, particularly to the time period between the Middle Spring and Autumn period and the Early Warring States period (late seventh—late fifth century B.C.). Excavations at Shan-piao-chen uncovered one large-scale tomb, seven small tombs, and one horse-and-chariot pit. Fifty Eastern Chou burials were excavated at Liu-li-ko.
In addition to tombs excavated at Liu-li-ko and Shan-piao-chen, other large-scale Eastern Chou tombs have also been unearthed in Honan, Shansi, Anhui, and Hupei provinces. In their ostentation and extravagance, these tombs reflect, perhaps, the "collapse of propriety and music" and the new pursuit of luxury in the lives of the ruling class. They also, however, fully reveal the great degree of sophistication in craftsmanship and developments in the arts at this time. Just as the Hundred Schools of thought contended in the philosophical writings of the Warring States period, so too members of the ruling class in the Eastern Chou contended with one another to display the artistic achievements of their states in their tombs.
SHAN-PIAO-CHEN TOMB M1
The Shan-piao-chen cemetery site is located in Chi-hsien, Honan (today, this is part of Wei-hui City). Tomb M1 at the site was the largest tomb excavated, and it also produced the richest amount of artifacts. Tomb M1 is a vertical pit tomb, with the bottom of the tomb chamber measuring 7.1 m north-south by 7.4 m east-west: these dimensions would place it in the range of middle to large-scale tombs of the Eastern Chou period. The excavators found that the inner and outer coffins had both disintegrated, leaving only ashy traces of the planking of the wooden outer-coffin. Four sacrificial human skeletons were located to the side of the inner coffin. Stone and charcoal were packed along the four outer sides of the outer-coffin: the charcoal would have prevented moisture and tree roots from penetrating the coffin chamber while the hard stone was meant to thwart grave robbers. Perhaps because of this, although the tomb had been robbed, only a small portion of it was damaged.
The burial objects in Shan-piao-chen Tomb M1 consisted mainly of a great variety of bronzes, including ritual vessels, musical instruments, weapons, horse-and-chariot fittings, and tools. Among these were rare items of exquisite workmanship, including two bronze chien-basins with scenes of water and land battles and a pair of rounded hu-jars with a standing bird cast on the lid. In contrast to the bronzes from Liu-li-ko Tomb M60, Shan-piao-chen Tomb M1 had few bronzes with coiled ch'ih hornless dragons and coiled snake motifs. Most of the bronze vessels from Shan-piao-chen Tomb M1 were either plain-surfaced without decorative patterns or only had cloud-and-thunder patterns. However, at the same time, bronzes from Tomb M1 also show that bronze inlay techniques continued to develop, evolving from the single animal patterns of the Late Spring and Autumn period (mid sixth—mid fifth century B.C.) to the more narrative battle scenes.
Stylistic analysis dates Shan-piao-chen Tomb M1 to the time between the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, i.e., the mid fifth century B.C. or slightly later. Although there were fewer chung-bells and ting-cauldrons in Shan-piao-chen Tomb M1 than in Liu-li-ko Tomb M60, the po-bells from Tomb M1 were of much finer manufacture. The owner of Shan-piao-chen Tomb M1 seems to have been a person of high status, at least an officer of state.