© Galerie Zacke
Catalog Number: JAD510-006
BI DISC
Jade
China
Late Neolithic period, Liangzhu culture, (c. 3300 - 2200 BC)
DM. 21,6 CM, INNER DM. 4,2 CM, THICKNESS 7 TO 8 MM

The Liangzhu culture, which takes its name from a small village located a few kilometres north of Hangzhou, flourished in South China in the region of the Lake Tai and was initially discovered in the 1930s. By now, hundreds of Liangzhu sites have been identified and excavated in a large area extending over southern Jiangsu and Northern Zhejiang provinces: the diggings are regularly conducted at present since Liangzhu is universally considered, especially after the discovery of the remains of a urban settlement, one of the most important cultures of late Neolithic China and the one which probably made the largest usage of objects in jade, mostly found in the richly furnished tombs of the elite which once ruled this ancient society. Liangzhu culture is credited with the ‘creation’ of two of the most enigmatic types of jades destined to have a long popularity even in the following historical periods: the bi disc and the cong tube (cat. no. 7), of particular importance since they are considered to be, on the basis of their peculiar shape and often size, ‘ritual’ objects with no utilitarian function which were instead used only within ritual contexts. The bi disc such as the one presented here - made out of the typical green nephrite used by Liangzhu craftsmen, who probably used raw material obtained from local sources by now exhausted - is essentially a simple, pure, geometric form with no sign at all of decoration. It is a substantial piece of jade whose highly polished surface allows the viewer to admire at best the compact crystalline structure of the mineral, which creates sort of abstract landscapes all over the smooth surface. Bi discs were sliced from larger boulders of jade and then refined through a long and painstaking work which required months of accurate labour, though the finished objects always present small irregularities revealing the handwork: the central hole, for example, which is almost always slightly off centre, presents an internal ridge, often not completely smoothed, originated by the fact that the hole was drilled from both sides of the bi using sections of bamboo and abrasive sands rich in quartz. Despite all theories advanced by scholars, the exact function of the bi is still a matter of controversy. Given its resemblance with the archaic Chinese character for ‘sun’, as found on Shang period oracle bones and consisting in a circle with a dot in the centre, the bi is often regarded as an archaic symbol of the sky or Heaven. This association cannot however be substantiated on the basis of the archaeological finds, which show that the less refined bi were often put in large amounts near the feet of the deceased, probably as a symbol of wealth or status, while the best and most finished ones were placed in the chest area of the dead. For an ample selection of bi disc excavated from a number of -Liangzhu sites, see Institute of archaeology of Zhejiang province, -Liangzhu wenhua yuqi, nos. 72 - 87. From an old private German collection.

Expertise:
Univ. Prof. Dr. Filippo Salviati, Description: Wolfmar Zacken

All jade descriptions in English are by Univ. Prof. Dr. Filippo Salviati. Those in German are by Wolfmar Zacken.

BI DISC The Liangzhu culture, which takes its name from a small village located a few kilometres north of Hangzhou, flourished in South China in the region of the Lake Tai and was initially discovered in the 1930s. By now, hundreds of Liangzhu sites have been identified and excavated in a large area extending over southern Jiangsu and Northern Zhejiang provinces: the diggings are regularly conducted at present since Liangzhu is universally considered, especially after the discovery of the remains of a urban settlement, one of the most important cultures of late Neolithic China and the one which probably made the largest usage of objects in jade, mostly found in the richly furnished tombs of the elite which once ruled this ancient society. Liangzhu culture is credited with the ‘creation’ of two of the most enigmatic types of jades destined to have a long popularity even in the following historical periods: the bi disc and the cong tube (cat. no. 7), of particular importance since they are considered to be, on the basis of their peculiar shape and often size, ‘ritual’ objects with no utilitarian function which were instead used only within ritual contexts. The bi disc such as the one presented here - made out of the typical green nephrite used by Liangzhu craftsmen, who probably used raw material obtained from local sources by now exhausted - is essentially a simple, pure, geometric form with no sign at all of decoration. It is a substantial piece of jade whose highly polished surface allows the viewer to admire at best the compact crystalline structure of the mineral, which creates sort of abstract landscapes all over the smooth surface. Bi discs were sliced from larger boulders of jade and then refined through a long and painstaking work which required months of accurate labour, though the finished objects always present small irregularities revealing the handwork: the central hole, for example, which is almost always slightly off centre, presents an internal ridge, often not completely smoothed, originated by the fact that the hole was drilled from both sides of the bi using sections of bamboo and abrasive sands rich in quartz. Despite all theories advanced by scholars, the exact function of the bi is still a matter of controversy. Given its resemblance with the archaic Chinese character for ‘sun’, as found on Shang period oracle bones and consisting in a circle with a dot in the centre, the bi is often regarded as an archaic symbol of the sky or Heaven. This association cannot however be substantiated on the basis of the archaeological finds, which show that the less refined bi were often put in large amounts near the feet of the deceased, probably as a symbol of wealth or status, while the best and most finished ones were placed in the chest area of the dead. For an ample selection of bi disc excavated from a number of -Liangzhu sites, see Institute of archaeology of Zhejiang province, -Liangzhu wenhua yuqi, nos. 72 - 87.