IRON BEGAN to take its place in the brilliant Bronze Age culture of China about 500 B.C. By the end of the 2nd century of the present era bronze weapons had been almost completely supplanted, while iron had been generally substituted for bronze in common use in utensils and vessels of various kinds, tools, chariot-fittings and even small pieces of sculpture. These were commonly cast in sand-moulds, were patterned after bronze prototypes and were typical in style and decoration of the Han period.
The Iron Age in Japan is supposed to have begun in the 2nd century B.C., though the chief early remains are weapons from the dolmens of the 2nd to the 8th centuries A.D. The Japanese iron founder attained a considerable skill at an early date and acquired a social position which was never attained by the bronze caster, or by the iron workers in China where the bronze age tradition was much stronger.
From the 9th century iron increasingly took the place of bronze in China as a material for sculpture, especially in the north and under the Sung dynasty. The few extant examples from the 11th century and later show work done on a larger scale and in coarser technique than the bronzes, though the modelling is usually more naturalistic.
Several iron pagodas, ranging in size from miniature models to towers 30 or more metres in height, and dating from the 10th to the 14th century, give further evidence of the dexterity of the Chinese iron caster. These imitate in detail both the structural and decorative effects of the more common tile-roofed brick pagodas. Iron for temple furniture has long been