Chinese Bi Disk History and Meaning

Chinese Bi Disk History and Meaning - Click to enlarge

Chinese Bi Disks

The “Bi” is a type of circular Chinese jade artifact which originated in the Neolithic period (3400-2250 BC). Most are undecorated while disks from later periods have ornate surface carvings. The circular form represents heaven and was among the earliest religious symbols. The original function and significance of the bi disk is unknown because the Neolithic cultures have left no written history.

From the earliest times they were buried with the dead as a “sky” symbol to accompany the dead into the afterworld. They were placed ceremonially on the body of persons of high status. Usually found on the stomach or chest in burials. They have been excavated from the tombs of the highest levels of society. In modern times they have become highly coveted sculptures and decorative objects.

Bi disks were originally made from jade, now they are made from marble, glass and metal. Jade, like bi disks, has been used throughout Chinese history to indicate an individual of moral quality and has also served as an important symbol of rank. The bi disks were used in worship and ceremony. As ceremonial items they symbolized the ranks of emperor, king, duke, etc. In war during the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BCE) bi disks belonging to the leaders of defeated forces were handed over to the victor as a sign of submission.