Takatoshi Misugi, who edited the book, Old Chinese Art, in which this fanglei was published, was at the time the curator of the Hakutsuru Museum. The book was published by Tsuyoshi Asano as a memorial to his father, Umekichhi Asano, a celebrated Japanese dealer of Chinese art who died in 1960. The book represented eighty-four objects (one for each year of the elder Mr. Asano's life) considered to be the finest handled by the elder Mr. Asano, which were at the time of publication in various museums or private collections throughout the world.
Lei existed for a short period in late Shang to early Western Zhou as a container for wine. Prior to the appearance of the lei, pou were used as wine containers. There is a short overlap of pou and lei and by the late 12th century BC pou had essentially disappeard. By late Western Zhou a new vessel that has only two ears, a lai, finally replaced the three-eared lei.
There are two types of lei, of round or square cross section. The ones in square cross section with strong casting are among the rarest of bronzes, of which this vessel is a well-known example. This type of vessel is contemporary with other wine vessels, such as the fangyi and guang.
This massive fanglei appears to be the largest of any of the published examples, being taller without its cover than any of the examples with covers and also broader through the body. The other published examples are in the Shanghai Museum (without cover) published numerous times, including Wen Fong, ed., The Great Bronze Age of China, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1980, no. 27; St. Louis Art Museum (with cover), S.D. Owyoung, Ancient Chinese Bronzes in the Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, 1997, no. 24; Palace Museum, Beijing (with cover), Zhonguo meishu quanji; gongyi meishu; qingtongqi (The Great Treasury of Chinese Fine Arts; Arts and Crafts; Bronzes (I)), Beijing, 1987, vol. 4, no. 126; Fujita Art Museum (with cover), Exhibition of Eastern Art, Tokyo National Museum, 1968, no. 275; and the Sumitomo Collection (with cover) Kyoto, W. Watson, Art of Dynastic China, New York, 1981, no. 225.
All of the examples are published as either Shang or Early Western Zhou dynasty in date, and all have a similar arrangement of decoration, although the elements vary: large taotie masks on the lower body below either birds or dragons; dragons on the shoulder and birds or dragons on the foot and neck. All have three handles, two on the shoulder and a third on one side of the lower body. And all have a mask on each side of the shoulder. Of those published the only other fanglei with similar hooked flanges is the St. Louis museum vessel. One of the unusual features of the present vessel are the horns of the dragon masks which are formed by coiled dragons, a feature that can also be seen on a massive bronze ding dated early Western Zhou excavated from Shijiayuan, Chunhua, Shaanxi province in 1979, illustrated in Zhongguo meishu quanji; gingtonqi, vol. 4, ibid., pp. 47, 126 and 127, pls. 135-136.
As with most or all of these vessels, the present fanglei is cast with a pictogram. The character at right may be interpreted as min (vessel), and is probably a clan sign. The remainder of the inscription reads, Fu Ji zuo zun yi, 'Father Ji made (i.e. commissioned) this sacred vessel'. Both the style of the writing and the placement of the characters indicate an early date. The free bold strokes of the characters is typical of late Shang inscriptions, however, some early Western Zhou inscriptions are similarly executed.