This very impressive museum, recently moved to the Beijing’s avant-garde building New Poly Plaza and located in
the 8-story lantern which literally hangs from the main structure, was established in 1998 to promote traditional art
and to protect Chinese art from being lost to foreign countries. The museum has focused on the overseas
acquisition of ancient bronzes, sculpture, and painting.
In May 2000, the museum made news headline when it spent $4 million to buy three bronze animal heads (ox,
monkey and tiger) at auctions in Hong Kong. The bronze pig head was donated to the Poly Art Museum in 2003.
All four heads are now part of the collections of the Poly Art Museum. The heads had been part of a zodiac
fountain at the Old Summer Palace near Beijing, designed by a European Jesuit in the mid-18th century, and were
looted by French and English troops when they razed the estate in 1860.
The museum is divided into two galleries, one for the display of Chinese bronzes from as early as the Shang
Dynasty (17th-11th century BC), and the other for Buddhist scriptures carved in stone from the Wei, Ji, Tang and
other dynasties. The most rare and valuable single bronze and the most fascinating object to scrutinize is the
ornate bronze ceremonial wine vessel (shenmian you, see the photo below) with the face of a deity and various
birds and other figures and a gorgeous blue-green patina. Unusually well preserved and made with exceptional
skill, it dates from the western Zhou period, from the 11th to 8th centuries B.C.
A photo Gallery of Poly Art Museum Collections
Bronze Wine Vessel “Shenmian You” from Early Western Zhou
Period – Poly Art Museum’s most prized possession
The most important piece to have been returned from overseas to
date is a bronze you with faces of `divinities’ on the lid and body
and is believed to have originated in Shaanxi province and was
acquired in Hong Kong. There are identical inscriptions of five
characters in two rows inside the lid and on the base. The vessel
has been ascribed to the early Western Zhou period on the basis
of its style and the form of the characters. The overall composition
of this you is very unusual, but authenticators are convinced it is
genuine. It is generally believed in the purchase price for the you
was around RMB8 million.
The Chinese started to worship the phoenix as the guardian
spirit of the nation more than 3,000 years ago, even before they
began to adore the dragon.
The extremely beautiful phoenix wine vessel (Zun), 49
centimetres tall and 41 centimetres long, is almost three times
the height of the two thought to be in the United States, which
are both apparently only 17.5 centimetres tall. It can be dated
back to the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046-771 BC).
The bronze wine vessel is in the shape of a phoenix standing
with its head raised, eyes opened wide, wings and tail spread.
The “phoenix” has a crest in the shape of a blooming flower on
the top of its “head.” And on its “back” there is a smaller
“phoenix” standing leisurely with its wings nestled against its
“belly.” The smaller bird functions as a handle on the top of the
vessel’s cover, which is part of the large bird’s back. Complex
and exquisite patterns, including dragons, cover the two birds’ bodies.
Set of Eight Western Zhou-period rongsheng yong bells
Largest bell: height 51.7 cm
The bells are unusual in that they form a complete set, which is
confirmed by the 154-character inscription, sections of which
appear on each of the bells. The inscription includes the name
Rong Sheng, the ruler of the Rong state. Each bell is capable of
producing two notes.