Diameter: 18.000 cm
On loan from a private collection OA 4:1
Room 33b: Chinese jade
Jade disc, or bi
China, Neolithic period, Liangzhu culture, around 2500 BC
Stone rings were being made by the peoples of eastern China as early as the fifth millennium BC. Jade discs have been found carefully laid on the bodies of the dead in tombs of the Hongshan culture (about 3800-2700 BC), a practice which was continued by later Neolithic cultures. Large and heavy jade discs such as this example, appear to have been an innovation of the Liangzhu culture (about 3000-2000 BC), although they are not found in all major Liangzhu tombs. The term bi is applied to wide discs with proportionately small central holes.
The most finely carved discs or bi of the best stone (like this example) were placed in prominent positions, often near the stomach and the chest of the deceased. Other bi were aligned with the body. Where large numbers of discs are found, usually in small piles, they tend to be rather coarse, made of stone of inferior quality that has been worked in a cursory way.
We do not know what the true significance of these discs was, but they must have had an important ritual function as part of the burial. This is an exceptionally fine example, with the two faces very highly polished.
J. Rawson, Chinese jade: from the Neolith (London, The British Museum Press, 1995, reprinted 2002)