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Disc (bi)

Disc (bi)

  • Place of origin:

    China (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 2500 BC (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Nephrite jade, carved

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with Art Fund support, the Vallentin Bequest, Sir Percival David and the Universities China Committee

  • Museum number:

    A.42-1936

  • Gallery location:

    China, Room 44, The T.T. Tsui Gallery, case 8

A ‘bi’ is a flat circular slab of jade with a central hole. An ancient Chinese text entitled the ‘Zhouli’ (‘Rituals of Zhou’) describes the ‘bi’ as a ceremonial object to sacrifice to Heaven. However the ‘bi’ was made at least a thousand years before the ‘Zhouli’ was written. Its function in prehistoric times remains unknown.

Physical description

Variegated dark green and brown. Pattern consists of four groups of spirals, four in each group. Between every alternate group of spirals is a small bird with spread wings and short bifurcated tail flying in clockwise direction. One of the birds is clearly discernible but the other one is obscured by encrustations on the stone. Each spiral measures a regular 5cm, and the space between each group is evenly laid out - an indication that the pattern was very carefully executed. No ridge in the hole.
An important piece for its size and pattern. It is slightly larger than the bi in the Freer Gallery with similar pattern (nr.17.79) which measures 31.8cm. The pattern is found along the slightly concave outer rims, made up of short, repeated incised lines.

Place of Origin

China (made)

Date

ca. 2500 BC (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Nephrite jade, carved

Dimensions

Diameter: 32.5 cm whole piece, Diameter: 3.8 cm hole, Thickness: 1.5 cm

Descriptive line

Liangzhu disc (bi) with bird pattern, Nephrite jade, circa 2500 BC

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

James C. Y. Watt, 'Neolithic Jade Carving in China' in TOCS 53 (1988-1989), pp.11-26, pl. 17, 17 a.
Teng Shu-p'ing, 'Mysterious Symbols on Neolithic Chinese Jade' in National Palace Museum Research Quarterly, vol.10 nr.3, Spring 1993.
Ming Wilson, 'Liangzhu Jades Rediscovered' in Oriental Art, Winter 1995/96, pp.2-8.
Ming Wilson, Chinese Jades, 2004, no.3
no.30
Rawson, Jessica and Ayers, John. Chinese Jade throughout the Ages, London : Oriental Ceramics Society, 1975

Labels and date

Disc (bi)
Stone Age
About 2500 BC

Round discs with a central hole are found in many graves. Their significance in prehistorical China is not clear but they may have been ritual objects.

Carved nephrite jade
Liangzhu culture, south China

Museum no. A.42-1936 [2007]

Production Note

Liangzhu culture

Categories

Ceremonial objects

Collection

East Asia Collection

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