Tuesday, July 2, 2013


In the history of jade carving in China, the cong is the most impressive of the ritual type jades produced.  After the neolithic era the designs became more decorative, but cong were still a symbol of elitism.  The original purpose of the cong has been lost with time, but there has been conjecture with regard to its use.  Cong and bi are the most significant of the ritualistic jades. It is thought that the square shape of the cong represents the earth and the circular disc shape of the bi represents Heaven. The cong in fact embodies both shapes and is thought by some to be a means of directing qi energy, a means of communicating with higher forces, a spiritual passage between the living and the dead, and perhaps warding off evil. Shamanism played an important role in every facet of neolithic life, and no doubt dictated the ritual and ceremonial use of these objects.

The Liangzhu Culture produced the most recognizable form of the cong, and embodies the amazing skill of the jade workers who produced these enigmatic objects. In the main they were a slightly tapering prism, the central section of which was a tubular form protruding at each end. The centre was drilled from both ends, usually leaving a slight ridge where the drilling met. This ridge sometimes shows the thickness of the tubular drill used to produce it. The design most commonly seen has a shallow vertical channel on each side separating it into symmetrical halves, and each corner is decorated with masks crowned by horizontal bands. Two types of masks are used; one more simplified with small round eyes and straight mouth, generally referred to as anthropomorphic, while the other has large eyes, thought to be zoomorphic, and may be decorated with fine incised work. Some speculation has been made that the zoomorphic masks were the precursor to the taotie used in later bronze and jade art.

Cong vary greatly in height, some small enough to have perhaps been used as bracelets. Our collection comprises tall cong, squat cong, bracelet cong, double cong, sets of four to five cong which fit one inside the other, and triangular cong. The design has also been used as amulets or pendants in the form of beads, most commonly seen in the Liangzhu culture.

The Liangzhu culture is dated from around 3000 – 2000 BC, a period of approximately 1000 years. The best-known literature available in English gives very little idea of the variety of jades produced during this period. Our collection comprises a much larger variety of patterns than it is possible to show. However, we will attempt to share some of them here.
From what we have seen of the variety of Liangzhu jades, this is a complex culture, coming from so many different localities. To confuse the issue further there were other cultures running concurrently, using similar motifs and designs. The different localities have produced a variety of jades of varying colours, quality and style of carving.

Period: Liangzhu culture (approx. 3000 - 2000 BC).
Medium: Nephrite jade.
Colour: Cream, yellow, russet and brown.
Dimensions: H. 31.5 cm; W. 6 - 7.5 cm.
The jade has been polished to a fine finish, silky to the touch, and the surface worn so that any fine engraving is barely or not at all visible.  It shows a distinct taper and the protruding collar at each end is squared with rounded corners.  An unusual feature with the drilling is that the drill used from the top end is 5 cm. in diameter and 4 cm. from the bottom end, leaving no distinct ridge.  There are ten rows of simplified masks down each corner, crowned by two raised horizontal bands.  The small round eyes are barely visible and the mouth is formed by a short straight raised band.

Period: Liangzhu culture (approx. 3000 - 2000 BC).
Medium: Nephrite jade.
Colour: Originally green, altered to reddish brown.
Dimensions: H. 31 cm; W. 7 - 7.6 cm.

The jade which was originally green has altered to a light reddish brown, and can be better seen in the close-up pictures.  The tubular form of the cong is made to be seen, protruding slightly at the top and bottom of the nine rows of highly defined masks on each corner.  The top and bottom rows are zoomorphic masks, and each alternate row has anthropomorphic masks crowned by a series of horizontal incised lines forming the crown.  The round eyes of these masks have a small line marking the corners of the eyes engraved on each side.  The central drilling of the cong has been executed from both ends, leaving a small ridge where it meets.


Period: Liangzhu culture (approx. 3000 - 2000 BC).
Medium: Nephrite jade.
Colour: Brown to reddish brown.
Dimensions: H. 28.2 cm; W. 7.2 - 8.4 cm.

This is very different to the traditional design of Liangzhu cong.  The finish is fine and it is difficult to see what the original colour might have been.  The ends protrude with rounded corners and the body of the cong is divided into two registers of traditional patterns, different on each of the four sides.  The close-up pictures show some of the extremely fine incised work still visible which decorates the motifs carved in low relief.

Period: Liangzhu culture (approx. 3000 - 2000 BC).
Medium: Nephrite jade.
Colour: Deep green.
Dimensions: H. 25 cm; W. 6.5 - 7 cm.

The fine incised line work decorating this cong sets it apart from most others produced during this period.  The lines are close together, forming intricate patterns.  It is composed of nine layers of masks alternating between anthropomorphic and zoomorphic.  The anthropomorphic masks are crowned by two bands, horizontally engraved, with a fine pattern between them.  The round eyes have a small dash engraved at each side and the masks have a patterned border running from the sides of the mouth up to the crown on each side.  The zoomorphic masks have large upturned eyes elaborately patterned, each bordered in the same way as the simplified anthropomorphic masks.  The drilling of the cong from top to bottom is similar to most Liangzhu cong, drilled from both ends and showing a slight ridge where it meets.

Period: Liangzhu culture (approx. 3000 - 2000 BC).
Medium: Antigorite.
Colour: Shades of brown, green and yellow.
Dimensions: H. 25.2 cm; W. 7.2 cm.

Although nephrite jade was the stone of choice, some pseudo-jade such as antigorite was used from neolithic times.  Antigorite is a form of serpentine and has a much finer crystal structure than nephrite.

The cylindrical form of the cong protrudes only slightly at each end, with seven layers of alternating anthropomorphic and zoomorphic masks on each corner forming the square prism.  The central drilling of the tube has been done from both ends, leaving a small ridge where it meets.  If there ever was any fine incised line decoration, it is no longer visible.

Period: Liangzhu culture (approx. 3000 - 2000 BC).
Medium: Nephrite jade.
Colour: Light yellowish brown.
Dimensions: H. 20 cm; W. 7.5 - 9 cm.

The cong has six layers of alternating anthropomorphic and zoomorphic masks, with a protrusion at each end that has rounded corners.  The simplified masks are crowned by two bands, horizontally engraved, with an engraved pattern between them.  The large eyes of the zoomorphic masks have a bridge between them and are decorated with incised line work.  The central drill hole has been executed from both ends leaving a slight ridge where the drilling meets.

Period: Liangzhu culture (approx. 3000 - 2000 BC).
Medium: Nephrite jade.
Colour: Originally yellow-green, altered to mostly reddish brown.
Dimensions: H. 9.5 cm; W. 12.2 cm.

The tubular form protrudes slightly above the square prism formed by two layers of masks, the anthropomorphic mask above an elaborately decorated zoomorphic mask.  The incised work is superbly executed.with great precision, similar to cong #4 above.