The inscription on the rim of this li may be translated as: “Count of Lu, Yufu, made this precious li vessel for the marriage of (his daughter) Zhu Ji Ren; may she treasure it forever.” During the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 BC), the collapse of the Zhou central rule led to the independence of feudal states who fought among themselves for hegemony. In these volatile circumstances, bronzes were not only used in ritual ceremony, but also increasingly in a political context. Bronzes were used by feudal princes as diplomatic gifts, including one special group, known as ying qi (ying vessels). The character ying means 'send' and has an extended meaning of giving a daughter away for marriage. Ying qi, therefore, are bronze ritual vessels as part of a princess’ dowry. In the Spring and Autumn period, marriages to a large extent were political events to forge or strengthen alliances between feudal states. In the present case, Ren, a daughter of the Count of Lu, Yufu, was married to a nobleman of the state of Zhu, and therefore became Zhu Ji Ren. The state of Lu was one of the most important Western Zhou feudal states conferred on descendants of the legendary Duke of Zhou, who was brother of the first Western Zhou king, King Wu. The state of Lu is also important in Chinese culture for being the birthplace of Confucius. The state of Zhu was a small neighboring state, located in modern day Tengzhou city, Shandong province.
According to Feng Yunyuan in Jinshi suo (Search for Bronzes and Stelae), 1893, p. 56, the Lubo Yufu bronzes, including li, fu, and yi vessels, were found in Teng county (modern day Tengzhou city) in the cyclical gengyin year of the Daoguang reign (1830). Luo Zhenyu identified five different Lubo Yufu li based on ink rubbings of inscriptions: see Zhensongtang jigu yiwen (Gathering of Ancient Writings at the Zhensongtang Studio), 1930, vol. 4, p. 10. The present Lubo Yufu li was first collected by Ding Yanchen (1829-1873) and its inscription was first published by Fang Junyi in Zhuiyizhai yiqikuanzhi kaoshi (The Zhuiyizhai Studio’s Interpretations of Inscriptions on Ritual Vessels) which was compiled in 1894 but not published until 1935. Ding Yanchen, a native of Guian, Zhejiang province, was an official and collector in the late Qing dynasty. He served as the inspector of the transportation of tribute grain in Shandong province.
Two of the other four Lubo Yufu li are in the Shanghai Museum, and are illustrated by Chen Peifen in Xia Shang Zhou qingtongqi yanjiu (Research on Bronzes from Xia Shang and Zhou Dynasties), Shanghai, 2004, vol. 5, pp. 34-6, no. 446 (1, 2). The whereabouts of the other two Lubo Yufu li are unknown. Also in the collection of the Shanghai Museum are a bronze pan and a bronze yi from the Lubo Yufu group, illustrated ibid, pp. 92-3, no. 471 and pp. 96-7, no. 473, respectively. The inscriptions on the Lubo Yufu pan and yi are very similar to that on the present Lubo Yufu li, except the characters for the vessel types are changed to mu yi (yi vessel for washing) and mu pan (pan vessel for washing).
A pair of very similar li, found in Linqu county, Shandong province, is illustrated in Zhongguo qingtongqi quanji: Dongzhou 3 (Complete Collection of Chinese Bronzes: Eastern Zhou 3), vol. 9, Beijing, 1997, pp. 8-9, no. 8. The inscriptions on this pair of li identify them as being from the state of Qi, also located in modern day Shandong province. It is interesting to note that this pair of li was also made as a dowry (ying qi). A similar li, found in Sanmenxia city, Henan province, now in the National Museum of China, is illustrated in Zhongguo qingtongqi quanji: Dongzhou 1 (Complete Collection of Chinese Bronzes: Eastern Zhou 1), vol. 7, Beijing, 1998, p. 3, no. 3.