Jade bi disc with ‘rice-grain’ pattern

China, late Warring States period to early Western Han dynasty, 3rd-2nd century BC

Diameter: 5 3⁄4 inches, 17 cm
Thickness: 1⁄8 inches, 0.4 cm

A jade bi disc of circular form with a round aperture cut in the centre. Around the inner and outer edges of the disc are two plain, raised bands. On both sides, the surface of the jade is worked with a symmetrical pattern of repeating raised dots, usually referred to as ‘rice-grain’ pattern. The original olive-green colour of the stone is partially visible. Large areas of the disc show a brownish and whitish colour, due to calcification.


The earliest forms of bi disc appear in burial sites along the east coast of China, dating from the late Neolithic period.[1] The origin and purpose of the bi disc in early Chinese art is not entirely known. Eastern Zhou and Han ritual texts named the bi disc as the suitable offering to Heaven, hence it is said to be symbolic of Heaven. Bi discs were usually imparted as gifts and offerings, or used in rites and sacrifices, especially during the Spring and Autumn period (770 – 475 BC).[2] The so.called ‘rice-grain’ pattern or ‘rush-mat’ design seen on the present disc, which became the main decorative motif after the mid-Warring States period, was inspired by scroll and spiral patterns that appeared from the 6th century BC.[3] Two similar bi discs of comparable design and size, dated to the Warring States period, are in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing.[4] Two closely comparable bi discs of similar design and size, dated to the early- to middle Western Han dynasty, are in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei.[5]

  1. Watson, W., The Art of China to AD 900, Pelican History of Art, Yale University Press, 1995, p. 52
  2. Rawson, J., Chinese Jade-From the Neolithic to the Qing, The British Museum Press, London, 1995, p. 247
  3. Rawson, J., op. cit., p. 252
  4. Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum.Jade. Vol. III, Spring and Autumn period and Warring States period, The Forbidden City Publishing House, Beijing, 2010, nos.97, 103, pp. 102, 108
  5. A catalogue of the National Palace Museum’s Special Exhibition of Circular Jade, Taipei, 1995, nos. 80, 82, pp. 128, 130