Jade Cong, c. 2500 B.C.E., Liangzhu culture, Neolithic period, China (British Museum)

Elaborate Jade ‘Cong’ and ‘Bi’ as Grave Goods of the Liangzhu Culture

(Read the article on one page)

The Liangzhu culture (written in Chinese as 良渚文化) is a Neolithic culture that existed from around 3300 BC until 2300 BC. The archaeological evidence suggests that the Liangzhu culture possessed knowledge of silk weaving, lacquering, and the use of mortise-and-tenon joints in timber construction. Nevertheless, this culture is perhaps best known for their sophisticated jade artifacts.

Whilst other contemporary Chinese cultures also produced jade objects, theirs did not compare with those made by the Liangzhu. The jade objects of the Liangzhu culture are commonly believed to have been used for ritual purposes, and the two most prominent types of such objects are known as cong (琮) and bi (璧).

Liangzhu Culture

The Liangzhu culture lived along the lower reaches of Yangtze River Delta of China, in the area that is today Zhejiang Province. One source reports that over 50 sites belonging to this culture have been excavated over the years. According to another source, the Liangzhu culture has been identified at “approximately three hundred sites in northern Zhejiang and southern Jiangsu provinces, in the area surrounding Lake Tai, and in present-day Shanghai.”

Examples of areas where remains of the Liangzhu culture have been discovered include Yaoshan, Fanshan and Meirendi. The architectural remains of the Liangzhu culture include city walls, residences, docks, workshops, altars, and tombs. It is from the last of these, in particular those belonging to the elite, that many high quality jade artifacts have been found.

Jade in burial, Liangzhu culture

Jade in burial, Liangzhu culture (CC BY-SA 2.5 )

The Cong

A cong may most simply be described as a “squared tube with a round hole”. There are two types of cong – single-section ones, as well as longer types. The cong is said to have been a symbol of supreme power, and many of these objects have been found to be large, even, and of a symmetrical shape. The squared corners of the cong are usually decorated with face-like designs. It has been speculated that the Liangzhu may have attributed some sort of magical or protective powers to these designs. As for the round hole within the cong, it has been suggested that they were bored with a tubular drill, perhaps a bamboo shaft.

Jade cong from Liangzhu culture, Neolithic Period (3300 - 2200 BC), lower Yangzi River Valley

Jade cong from Liangzhu culture, Neolithic Period (3300 - 2200 BC), lower Yangzi River Valley (CC BY-SA 2.5 )

The Bi

The bi, on the other hand, are “wide discs with a center hole”. Thousands of bi have been unearthed from tombs of the Liangzhu elite. The best examples of bi are perfectly circular in circumference. Those of lesser quality, however, are irregular in shape. Additionally, bi would normally bear traces of saw and drill marks on their surfaces. By contrast, the best bi would have such traces completely polished away, leaving behind surfaces “buffed to a lustrous shine”. Regardless of the quality of the bi, the production of the objects was an extremely laborious and time-consuming process, and it is likely that only the elites of the Liangzhu culture could have afforded it.

A Han Dynasty bi, 16 cm (6.3 inches) in diameter.

A Han Dynasty bi, 16 cm (6.3 inches) in diameter. (CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Unclear Burial Artifacts

It is unclear what the cong and bi were used for. Based on their discovery in elite tombs, it has been commonly thought that they were used for ritual purposes by the Liangzhu elites. Although we no longer know why the cong and bi were buried with the dead Liangzhu elite, it is likely that they had an influence on later Chinese mortuary practice. This is because the burial of jade objects with the dead continued well into Chinese history.

For example, as late as the Han Dynasty (206 BC – AD 220), jade disks were placed above the head, on the chest, and below the feet of deceased Chinese elites. One suggestion is that the jade disks were meant to guide the soul of the deceased into heaven. Another suggestion is that jade was believed to prevent the decomposition of the flesh.

Jade Bi Disc in Xuzhou Museum.

Jade Bi Disc in Xuzhou Museum. (CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Speculation regarding the function(s) of the cong and bi is not limited to modern times, as these objects have intrigued the Chinese from different periods of history as well. For example, during the Qing Dynasty, the Qianlong Emperor speculated that a bi he owned was in a fact a bowl stand, and decided to inscribe a poem onto the object, the first two lines of which are as follows:

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

 Indus Valley Diorama by Biswarup Ganguly
In the Rigveda, the ancient Indian Vedic Sanskrit canonical sacred texts, a hymn is dedicated to each deity and the goddess Saraswathi is revered as a female deity with healing and the purifying powers of abundant, flowing waters. Saraswathi is therefore also reference to a river and she embodies wisdom, music, language and purification of self.

Myths & Legends

Constantine TV Series logo
Constantine is an American TV series that centers around the character of John Constantine, a British exorcist and occult detective who hunts supernatural entities. The entire Constantine series is based upon a vast mythology that encompasses the legends and folklore of many different cultures throughout history.

Ancient Places

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article