Bi

Chinese


Bi, ca. 3200 - 2300 BCE

  • Not On View

Nephrite

Dimensions: 10 3/16 in. (25.9 cm)

Gift of Barry Fitzmorris, 2011.235

According to Zhou Li, an ancient ritual text, a bi may represent heaven, the yang, the positive, and the male principle of the universe. Several tombs from South China have pairs of bi flanking the body; likely acting as protection for the soul of the deceased. The shape of the bi is deceiving in its simplicity. Great skill was required to carve the uniformed punctured circle and maintain a smooth, luminous surface.The term bi is applied to wide discs with perforated centers. As one of the oldest forms of symbolic jade crafting in China, Bi disks were the hallmark of the Liangzhu culture dating to the late Neolithic period—ca. 3,200 to 2,300 BCE. The original meaning of the bi has since been lost, but they are thought to represent the afterlife, or eternity. The most impressive discs or bi were made of the finest jades and were placed in prominent positions, often near the stomach and the chest of the deceased. Smaller, more roughly finished disks were aligned with the body, typically above the head and below the feet. The enormous labor involved in carving a hard stone like jade is a striking testimony to the importance of the object and the status of person who the bi was placed upon.

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