||Inscribed bronzes first appeared during the end of the second millennium BC in China in the Shang period. By 900 BC, i.e. Middle Western Zhou, bronze vessels were routinely inscribed with long inscriptions. One of the most common activities recorded is gift granting: the bestowment of gifts by the king upon members of the elite for personal merits or for military actions. Gift granting became more prevalent during Early Western Zhou, and the ever more elaborated gift lists formed the main content of the inscriptions. Mentioning of such gift granting events, however, gradually diminished and was replaced by inscriptions that focused more on the individual aspects of the lesser elite, rather than the benevolent deeds of the king.
Gift granting clearly played an important role in the political structure of Shang and Early Western Zhou China. With a kingship that was supported by a rudimentary and kin-based bureaucratic system, the king had only symbolic and nominal control over his noble kinsmen. The granting of gifts therefore may well have been the means to create social and especially political obligations, through which the king was able to secure services from other members of the elite. This paper intends to investigate the role of gift granting in the changing political structure of the Shang and Early Western Zhou periods by examining the context of gift granting and the types of services promised in return in order to explore the interaction between the king and the lesser elite.