Jade bi

From China, Shang dynasty, about 1500-1050 BC 
Inscribed AD 1790

Inscribed with a poetic reflection on the object by the Qianlong emperor

The Qianlong emperor (reigned 1736-95) was a great collector of antiquities. He managed to acquire many famous old paintings, bronzes, porcelains and jades for the imperial collection. This policy led some connoisseurs to commission copies of their prized paintings, so they would not lose the originals to the emperor.

The emperor not only wanted to possess these things, he wanted to put his seal on them, or to write a poem or other comment on them. He did this most often with paintings, but he also carved his thoughts on special ceramics and jades.

Qianlong owned more jades than anyone in Chinese history, his collection spanning the precious material's history. This jade bi ring or disc, dates to the Shang dynasty (about 1500-1050 BC). The emperor's inscription says that his poetic imagination was stirred by its subtle and exquisite shape, and the quality of the jade from which it was made.

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Object details

Height: 1 cm
Diameter: 15 cm


Asia OA 1937.4-16.140

Room 33: Asia


    J. Rawson, Chinese jade: from the Neolith (London, The British Museum Press, 1995, reprinted 2002)

    S.J. Vainker, Chinese pottery and porcelain, (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    M.C. Elliott, The Qianlong Emperor: Son of Heaven, Man of the World (Harlow, Longman, 2009)

    P.C. Perdue, ‘Comparing Empires: Manchu Colonialism’, International History Review, 20 (1998), 255–262

    P-T. Ho, ‘In defence of Sinicization: a Rebuttal of Evwlyn Rawsky’s “Reenvisioning of the Qing”’, Journal of Asian Studies, 57 (1998), 123–155

    J. Rawson, Chinese Jade: from the Neolithic to the Qing (London, 1995)

    E.S. Rawsky, and J. Rawson, China: the Three Emperors 1662-1795 (London, 2005)

    E.S. Rawsly, ‘Presidential Address: Reenvisioning the Qing: the Significance of the Oing period in Chinese History’, Journal of Asian Studies, 55 (1996), 829–850

    A.H. Rowbotham, ‘Voltaire, sinophile’, PMLA, 47 (1932), 1050–1065

    A. Singer, The Lion and the Dragon: the Story of the first British Embassy to the court of the Emperor Qianlong in Peking 1792-94 (London, 1992)

    J. Waley-Cohen, ‘China and Western Technology in the Late Eighteenth Century’, American Historical Review, 98 (1993), 1525–1544