Acquired in December 1991.
The inscription on the shoulder reads
Chen Diao/Shu zhi sun Kehuang zhi zheng ji
which may be translated as
"[The result of the divination is that] the long journey of Chen Shu's grandson Ke Huang is auspicious."
A very similar piece was among the artefacts unearthed from the famous tomb of the Marquis Yi of Zheng (Zheng Houyi in Chinese), in Leigudun, Suixian (Hubei province), dated to circa 433 BC. The fact that the tomb was waterlogged left it in a remarkable state of preservation, allowing the exact determination of the distribution of the goods in the four chambers, which mirrored the Marquis' palace during his life. The lei was included in the central chamber, which seems to have corresponded to the ceremonial hall of Yi's palace. It contained ritual bronze vessels, a large set of bronze bells, and other instruments. For a plan view of the Leigudun lei, compare the illustration in Jessica Rawson, Mysteries of Ancient China: New Discoveries from the Early Dynasties, London, 1996, fig. 18.
Another similar vessel from the tomb of the Marquis Cai at Shouxian (Anhui province), is illustrated in William Watson, Ancient Chinese Bronzes, London, 1962, pl. 59b; compare also the lei in Royal Ontario Museum: The T.T. Tsui Galleries of Chinese Art, Hong Kong, 1996, pl. 17; and another, included in the Exhibition of the Yellow River Civilization, Tokyo, 1986, no. 66; a piece without the loose rings is published by Mizuno in Bronzes and Jades of Ancient China, pl. 150. Compare the pou with similar raised roundels around the shoulder illustrated by Watson in The Freer Chinese Bronzes, p. 525, pl. 96.
The result of Oxford Authentication Ltd. thermoluminescence test no. C101x85 is consistent with the dating of this lot.