Ceremonial Shang Jade Ritual Blade


Green Nephrite Jade with Darker Inclusions
Shang Period, circa 1700-1200 BC
Length: 15 inches (38.1 cm)


Jade prestige objects such as this ceremonial blade indicate the importance which Chinese culture placed on jade, and related hardstones, as an indicator of rank and status during the Shang period.

The ceremonial ritual blade gently tapers from the butt to a straight and beveled cutting edge.  The surface is evenly finished with a matte polish. Two conically shaped holes along the edge of the butt provide further evidence of Shang period drilling techniques. At the time, holes were more easily drilled from an angle, rather than straight through as in later periods. When applied at such an angle, primitive drilling tools were more resistant to breakage. There is a slight concave notch worked into the tang end of the blade. There are physical indications of a weave-like pattern on the surface, most probably silk, which may have been wrapped around the blade. Also, there are reddish oxidized residues on the surface of the blade that indicate contact with cinnabar, which would have been present in the tomb environment. In our opinion, this blade is an outstanding and historically significant example of a prestige jade ceremonial object of the Shang period.


Reference number 3172


A similar example a large Shang period blade is illustrated in Chinese Archaic Jades from the Kwan Collection. Yang Boda. The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1994. Plate 61.

A discussion on the ritual use of early axe blade forms may be found in “Neolithic Blades: Feast & Ritual.” Sam Bernstein. Orientations Magazine. December 1993. Pages 59-61. The article is also published in Collecting Chinese Art. Sam Bernstein. University of Washington Press, 2000. Pages 22-27.

An overview of ceremonial jade blades may be found in Chinese Jade from the Neolithic to the Qing. Jessica Rawson. London: British Museum Press, 1995. Section Ten, pp.167-196. Similar examples are illustrated on plates 10:19 and 10:20.

For an informative discussion of Shang period ritual objects, see The Archaeology of Ancient China. Chang Kwang-chih. Yale University Press, London, 1986. Fourth Edition. Pages 317-338.

For an informative discussion of jade ritual objects, see The Great Bronze Age of China. Wen Fong, ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Alfred A. Knopf, 1980. Pages 76-77, figure 21, and 82-83, figure 3.


To inquire about this work of art, contact us at 415.421.3434 or email at sbernsteinjade@aol.com