This you is one of the smallest among Shang dynasty you vessels. Its size is about half to one third of a regular you, and yet the elegant and architectural proportions, the precise casting, and the thick walls are of the same caliber as the finest of it’s regular-size relatives. Such miniatures are very rare. The you of this type first appeared in the late Yinxu phase II (c. 1200 B.C.), and thereafter became one of the most important wine vessels of the late Shang-early Western Zhou period. It was part of the bronze ritual paraphernalia used during ceremonies of offering wine and food to ancestors. However, the exact function of miniatures like the present example is unclear. One most plausible theory is that they are nongqi (vessels for play). A tiny bronze fangding lid (6.3 x 5.2 cm.) bearing a four-character inscription, wang zuo X nong, was found in 1975 at Anyang and is illustrated by R. W. Bagley together with a you vessel (20.2 cm. high) bearing the same inscription in Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Washington, D.C., 1987, pp. 380-81, figs. 65.2 and 65.3 respectively. Archaeologist Zheng Zhenxiang suggested that nong means nongqi, or toys, and translated the inscription as “Made by the king for X to play with,” however, Bagley raised objections that there is a wide variation in sizes among bronzes identified by inscriptions as nongqi and nong can also be interpreted as 'use', ibid,p. 380. In any case, the fact that the fangding lid was made by a wang (king) for a female (the indecipherable character X contains the radical for female) attests that these rare miniatures must have been reserved for the highest ranking members of the elite.
A regular-sized you (22 cm. high) of similar proportions and with similar cast designs, but now missing its handle, is also illustrated ibid, 1987, p. 372, no. 64. Another regular-sized you (29.8 cm. high) of similar form and decoration was sold at Christie’s New York, 21 September 2004, lot 147.