Modified on April 3, 2021
Jade is the good stone, favored in China for 8000 years for its beauty and hardness and also for the possibility to carve it. Early jade discs centered by a round hole could be worn as an amulet. They are the 'bi'. Their symbolic decoration attracts the best auspices on the wearer. Their rarity makes them a discriminatory social attribute and their high ranked owners retained them in the grave.
The Qianlong emperor was a great connoisseur of antique jades. His personal expertise of such pieces has been the subject of no less than 800 of his poems.
On April 22, 2021 in Hong Kong, Sotheby's sells one of the most exceptional bi from this former imperial collection, lot 9 estimated HK $ 45M. It had been sold for HK$ 34.5M including premium in the same auction room on April 8, 2007, lot 603.
This jade piece 31 cm high includes a 24 cm pierced disc. The wide inner ring is engraved on both sides of a tight pattern of nails. The outer ring and the protrusion are pierced and carved with dragon, chilong, phoenix and two large letters. The color varies between dark celadon and honey brown.
The emperor took a special care to highlight this piece. In the Gengyin year, 1770 CE, he had it mounted into a removable table screen in zitan. His comment was inscribed on the rim of the bi and on the reverse side of the screen.
The Qianlong emperor knew that this piece was created a millennium and a half before him, symbolizing longevity both in its decoration and its age. It had indeed been executed during the late Eastern Han period some time around 200 CE. The end of the imperial poem is questioning "to whom did you belong ?" assessing that it was for the emperor a symbol of the forgotten imperial past.