Disc (Bi)

ca. 2500 BC (made)
Disc (Bi) thumbnail 1
Disc (Bi) thumbnail 2
+7
images
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
China, Room 44, The T.T. Tsui Gallery
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

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.


object details
Category
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Nephrite jade, carved
Brief Description
Liangzhu disc (bi) with bird pattern, Nephrite jade, circa 2500 BC
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.
Dimensions
  • Whole piece diameter: 32.5cm
  • Hole diameter: 3.8cm
  • Thickness: 1.5cm
Style
Gallery Label
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)
Credit line
Purchased with Art Fund support, the Vallentin Bequest, Sir Percival David and the Universities China Committee
Production
Liangzhu culture

Summary
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.
Bibliographic References
  • 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
  • Rawson, Jessica and Ayers, John. Chinese Jade throughout the Ages, London : Oriental Ceramics Society, 1975no.30
Collection
Accession Number
A.42-1936

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record createdMay 8, 2000
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