n Neolithic Period to the Hsia Dynasty (ca. 6000-1600 B.C.)
n Figure
n Salamander-Human
n Disc
n Shang Dynasty to the Western Chou (ca. 1600-771 B.C.)
n Pendant with Human and Dragon Motifs
n Pair of Rams
n Boar
n Eastern Chou to the Han Dynasty  (770 B.C. to A.D. 220)
n Tiger Pendant
n Figure
n Double Dragon Pendant from Ch'in
n Bronze Knife with Jade Handle and Hilt
n "Perpetual Happiness" Disc


         The Shang people belonged to the Eastern Yi tribal group. They migrated from the Liao River valley to western Shantung and then west to eastern Honan, where the royal house of Shang was established. The Chou clan, like the Hsia and Chiang clans, was a member of the greater Hua-Hsia tribal group, and lived in the Wei River basin in Shensi. Arising from different clans, the Shang and Chou naturally developed unique cultures and ritual jade traditions. Yet these traditions also shared broad similarities due to the prolonged interaction between the two clans and the nature of their relationship as predecessor and successor to the royal house.

          From written and archeological evidence, we know that the most highly esteemed ritual objects during the Shang period were those of jade. Unlike bronze vessels, which are widely found in small- to medium-sized tombs of the nobility, jade objects were used exclusively by the highest-ranking members of society. The Shang and Western Chou not only inherited the pi disc and ts'ung ritual tube from Neolithic times, but also elevated the ritual status of the kuei tablet, such that it gradually replaced the ts'ung as the highest ranking ritual jade complementing the pi. The kuei of this time were made in two forms. One, a descendent of the axe, had a flat top edge. The other, representing a ko dagger, had a sharp symmetrical tip. The plain pi discs, plain ts'ung ritual tubes, and ko daggers in this display were all important ritual objects during the Shang and Western Chou periods. A "kuei chuan" was used during sacrificial rites as wine ladles to pour libations upon the ground. The handle-shaped objects in this exhibit are probably the handles of this sacrificial implement.

          The Shang people inherited the culture of the Yi and Yueh tribal groups and produced many animal-shaped jades, examples of which are displayed in this exhibit. It is recorded that when the army of King Chou (the last Shang ruler) was defeated, the king donned his shaman vestment sewn with many small jade animal figurines and committed suicide by fire. The king, who also held the position of chief shaman, may have hoped that the essential vital force of the jade and the power of the animals represented in this precious mineral would help his spirit find its way to heaven. This belief continued in the Western Chou period. It was also customary for the Chou monarchs and high-ranking nobles to wear ensembles of jade huang pendants.

          There are several jades displayed in this exhibit with zoomorphic motifs. Jade sculptures or inlays depicting human figures were often mounted as finials on a long staff used by the shaman to summon the spirits of the gods and ancestors during sacrificial rites. Some jade pendants combined human and dragon designs, implying perhaps that the wearer could communicate with the heavens. Many species of animal are depicted as well--from insects, amphibians, fish, and birds to domestic animals, wild beasts, dragons, and fabulous creatures of mythology. Some of the animals are unadorned in their natural state or with simple patterns suggesting wings. Others are carved with whorl patterns signifying the movement of the primal forces of the universe. Some of the figures wear a kuei crest, representing the power of the monarch, and others have horns shaped like the character symbolizing clan ancestors (tsu ). On all of the animal jades with symbolic designs or features, the eyes of the creatures are carved similar to the character for eye (mu ) as written in the Shang and Chou script. The character mu is also a prominent part of the character meaning virtue (te ), the original meaning of which was "heaven-sent endowment." Jades with this motif derive from the ancient belief that the ancestors of tribal clans received the gift of life from Shang-ti, the heavenly deity, through the medium of sacred animals. This is the essence of the saying that the gentleman (chun-tzu ), a member of the aristocratic elite, should look to the qualities of jade as a model for human virtue.

     A reconstructed set of jade pendants from the late Western Chou period can be seen in this exhibit. This type of pendant set was usually hung around the neck. On many of the huang pendants displayed here, the dominant designs are dragons, tigers, and humans. As the ritual traditions of the Western Chou matured, these adornments became progressively more refined. The longer the pendants were, the more slowly and dignified the wearer had to walk. It also has been observed that in many of the graves of high-ranking nobles, the number of huang in the pendant set worn by the deceased corresponds exactly to the number of bronze ting vessels in the coffin. This phenomenon is an area of Western Chou rites that is worthy of further study.