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Jade Gui Tablet

AnonymousBC 2200-BC 1900

National Palace Museum

National Palace Museum
Taipei, Taiwan

This jade gui tablet is ivory yellow on both sides, with the lower half of the reverse side having a red sienna tinge. The cutting edge of the blade is much darker, almost black, and exhibits many nicks. The other end, where the tablet was held, also shows signs of damage. This end has a hole bored through it, with smooth walls. The middle section of both sides of the tablet are carved with mysterious motifs in shallow relief, whilst the upper and lower sections have been carved with a poem written by the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795) of the Qing dynasty and the emperor's seal. The wooden stand was made in the Qing dynasty imperial workshops. Implements fashioned from quality jade were mainly used as ritual objects symbolizing the power of the ruler, and were given the name gui in the ancient Chinese system of etiquette and rites. The convention was to hold the tablet with the blade facing up. This piece originates from the Mt. Tai area of China from around 4300 to 3800 years ago. According to historical records, this area was occupied during this period by the Dongyi people, a name often translated as the Eastern Barbarians, and so the motifs carved onto the middle sections of the tablet likely represent the gods or ancestors of these people. These carvings are now very faint. On one side is a god or ancestor with a spiral eye and jewelled headgear decorated on either side with phoenix feathers. On the other side is an eagle, rendered in an abstract shape that mirrors the shape of the headgear worn by the figure on the other side, flying up to the heavens. On the thin end of the tablet, which measures around 1 cm in width, is also a carving of a longhaired woman wearing circular earrings, possibly representing the Dongyi empress named Changyi. The significance of these carvings was unknown to the Qianlong Emperor in the 18th century, and he had the tablet orientated such that the blade was facing down, ordering his craftsmen to carve his poem and seal into the surface.

Details

  • Title: Jade Gui Tablet
  • Creator: Anonymous
  • Date Created: BC 2200-BC 1900
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 30.5 cm, largest width: 7.2 cm, largest thickness: 1.05 cm, weight: 600.96 g
  • Type: Jades
  • Rights: National Palace Museum
  • Dynasty: Late Longshan Culture

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