Engraved discs similar to this one were found in tombs in the kingdom of Chu, in Changsha (Hunan). Tomb 406 contained up to six. One was placed on the forehead, two on each side of the head and two others near the knees of the body. A final disk had been slipped into the space between the two nested coffins containing the deceased, near his head. The tradition of placing two discs on either side of the deceased's head would continue into the Western Han period (206 BC-9 AD) in the Old Kingdom of Chu.
Traditionally, discs bi are interpreted as a symbol of heaven, based on texts from the Warring States period (453-221 BC) and the Han (206 BC-220). However, their positioning in these Hunan tombs recalls more particularly the words of the philosopher Zhuangzi (end of the IVe century BC. J.-C.) which, evoking his near death, announced that the sun and the moon would be materialized in his tomb by two discs bi.
Disks of this type, found in the tombs of Changsha, are often decorated only on one side, by means of two sets of parallel lines which intersect and small circles which underline these points of intersection. The use of steatite seems to be a local substitute for nephrite, the material usually used for these insignia.
IVe-IIIe century BC J.-C.
Gift of the Society of Friends of the Cernuschi Museum, 1974
Photo credit :
© Paris Museums / Cernuschi Museum