Archaistic jade gui (ritual sceptre)
Ming or Qing dynasty, 16th-17th century AD
A gui, a rectangular tablet with a pointed end, was an emblem of office that was held upright with both hands in front of the chest. They were first used during the Western Zhou dynasty (1050-771 BC), based on the ge (ritual sceptre) of the Shang dynasty (around 1500-1050 BC). They were often placed in tombs, to establish the rank and identity of their owners in the next life.
Like many objects, gui were later revived in the spirit of archaism (looking back to past traditions). This extended to objects in many materials, but particularly jade and bronze. Archaism has pervaded the arts at various times in Chinese history, particularly the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), which re-established the supremacy of all things Chinese, after the period of Mongol rule.
Economic expansion in the Ming and the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) increased the desire for material possessions. Collectors sought novelties based on approved forms. This gui is in the ancient form, but the decoration of raised spirals was used on bi, not ritual sceptres.
J. Rawson, Chinese jade: from the Neolith (London, The British Museum Press, 1995, reprinted 2002)
J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of Chi (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)