Notable for its well controlled modeling and refined precision in the design, the present bronze ladle represents an outstanding example of late Shang bronze workmanship and is the epitome of the luxurious ritual performance celebrated by the Shang elite class. Bronze ladles were used to bail wine from vessels during ritual ceremonies. Two forms of bronze ladle are known, dou and shao, which are distinguished by the shape of their handle: dou has a curved handle, and shao has a straight handle. Dou as a drinking utensil was recorded in early Chinese literature, such as the Shijing [Classic of Poetry], a compilation of ancient poems dated from early Western Zhou dynasty to the middle of Spring and Autumn period. In the Shijing, the poem, 'Reed by the Road', contains a verse, which can be translated to 'the tasty wine shall be bailed with a large dou'. The shape of dou is also referenced in another poem, 'The Great East', where it reads 'the north has the Big Dipper, but unfortunately it can't be used to bail wine'.
The present dou is remarkable for its elaborate decoration, which further adds to its importance among the surviving examples. Compare a closely related dou of this type with a long handle, similarly cast with the vertical ribs around the bowl, but with different creatures on the handle, dating to the Shang dynasty, mid-Anyang period, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, gifted by Ernest Erickson Foundation in 1985, and published in Maxwell K. Hearn, Ancient Chinese Art. The Ernest Erickson Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1987, pl. 5. See also one illustrated in William C. White, Bronze Culture of Ancient China, London, 1956, pl. XIII, D.