From southern China
Neolithic period, Liangzhu culture, around 2500 BC
An important burial jade, carved with faces
A group of Neolithic peoples grouped today as the Liangzhu culture lived in the Jiangsu province of China during the third millennium BC. Their jades, ceramics and stone tools were highly sophisticated.
They used two distinct types of ritual jade objects: a disc, later known as a bi, and a tube, later known as a cong, of square cross-section, pierced with a circular hole. They clearly had great significance, but despite the many theories the meaning and purpose of bi and cong remain a mystery. They were buried in large numbers: one tomb alone had 25 bi and 33 cong.
The corners of most cong are decorated with faces, indicated by eyes and parallel bars. This design is an abbreviated form of a complex figure with a monster face.
Cong were extremely difficult and time-consuming to produce. As jade cannot be split like other stones, it must be worked with a hard abrasive sand. This one is exceptionally long and may have been particularly important in its time.
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)