Tuesday, October 7, 2008

He Shi Bi

The He Shi Bi is a piece of jade which plays an important part in many historical stories in Ancient China. Found in the State of Chu by a man named Bian He, it was first made into a jade disc, then into the Imperial Seal of China by Qinshihuang.


The piece of jade was discovered as a piece of stone in the hills of Chu by Bian He, who was so excited about his discovery that he hastened to show it to the ruler, King Li of Chu; yet, King Li did not believe that the stone contained valuable jade, and had one of the man's legs cut off for deceiving the ruler. When King Li died, the throne was then passed on to King Wu, and Bian He presented the stone again; King Wu, again, did not believe the man, and had his other leg amputated as well. Only when the next King, King Wen of Chu, ascended the throne, did he believe Bian He and have his sculptors work on the stone; to their astonishment they found a piece of incomparable white jade, which was made into a jade disc that was named in honour of its discoverer .

"Returning the Jade Intact to Zhao"

The jade disc, unfortunately, was stolen from Chu and eventually sold to ; in 283 BC, King Zhaoxiang of offered 15 cities to Zhao in exchange for the jade . Zhao Minister Lin Xiangru was dispatched to send the jade to Qin; but when it became clear that Qin would not uphold its side of the bargain, he threatened to smash the jade and subsequently stole back to Zhao with the He Shi Bi intact. Thus giving birth to another Chinese idiom, 完璧歸趙, meaning 'Returning the Jade Intact to Zhao'.

The Imperial Seal

In 221 BC, Qin conquered the other six Warring States and founded the Qin Dynasty; the He Shi Bi thus fell into the hands of Qinshihuang, who ordered it made into his . The words, "Having received the , may lead a long and prosperous life." were written by Prime Minister Li Si, and carved onto the seal by Sun Shou. This seal was to be passed on even as the dynasties rose and fell, but was lost about 1500 years later.

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