Jade Plectrum

White Jade with Russet Markings

Fifth to Second Century B.C.

Length: 2-9/16 inches (6.5 cm)


The arched, tapering, shield shape is centered by a circular finger aperture surrounded at the top by finely incised scrolls, rendered along the edges with the openwork figures of a dragon and a bird.

This musical pick is an archaism, which derives its form and shape from an archer’s ring, and was intended to be used as a refined and elegant tool for playing a stringed instrument. Confucius refers to this in writing, “The finer the jade, the higher the quality of the music played.” This musical pick is an excellent representation of jade objects that were made to be used for application in everyday life. The fifth to second centuries witnessed a change in jade ornaments as an indicator of status in the continuing evolutionary development of the art form. In the world of jade working, change has been incremental for the past seven thousand years. In our opinion, the subject matter, material and workmanship of this work of art suggests a Fifth to Second century BC date.


Reference number 2917



From A Distinguished American Collection

Ex-Collection: Myron Falk Collection, New York, No. 502

Exhibited: Arts of the Chou Dynasty, Palo Alto, California, Stanford University Museum, 1958, no. 206

Exhibited: The Art of Eastern Chou, New York, Chinese Art Society, 1962, no. 78

Exhibited: Chinese Jade Throughout the Ages, London, Oriental Ceramic Society, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1975, no. 132

Exhibited: Auspicious Dragons in Chinese Decorative Art, Katonah, New York, Katonah Gallery, 1975, no. 15

Exhibited: Selections of Chinese Art from Private Collections, New York, China House Gallery, China Institute in America, 1986, no. 15


This object, Number 502 once formed part of the Myron and Pauline Falk collection. The Falks were an extraordinary couple who formed one of the greatest collections of Chinese art ever assembled outside of China. They were founding members of the China House Gallery at the China Institute in 1949, and they participated in the establishment of the Archives of Chinese Art in 1945, a scholarly journal that continues to be published today by the Asia Society as the Archives of Asian Art.

The Falks were among the founders of the Friends of Asian Art at the Brooklyn Museum, as well as the Friends of Far Eastern Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Their collection of early Chinese bronzes and jade was quite unique. The Falks managed to acquire the classic bronze shapes and designs in an area that has only recently been understood through rich finds and excavations in northern China. Their jade collection also highlights recognition of the unusual, elegant and rare in this most conservative of Chinese art forms. An inclination toward the sculptural and representational is evident in their selection of archaic jades.

Earlier forms of decoration were relaxed and jade artists catered to a variety of secular decoration of jades. These objects, of which the Falk piece is an outstanding example, were made possible by continued development of jade working tools, especially the use of rotary drilling and surface grinding. These tools enabled the artisans to work larger areas of surface with small projecting elements.

See a white jade pendant with an openwork pattern depicting a dragon and phoenix of similar workmanship techniques to the Falk example presently in the Yangzhou Museum. This example was excavated from Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province in 1977. The pattern showing the relationship of the two animals is stylistically related to the Falk example and therefore suggests that it is of the period, rather than a later archaism. See Zhongguo wenwu jinghua daquan: jin yushi (Masterpieces of Chinese Cultural Treasures: Gold, Silver and Jade Stone) Shi Shu Qing, ed. Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1994. No. 160.

A 1984 archaeological report by the Shaanxi Archaeological Institute suggests that the “earliest sign of jade ornament abstracts a diaper of small curving units from contemporaneous bronze ornament, repeating the movement of these units in the entire outline of plaques given tiger heads and dragon-like fins.” (From The Arts of China to 900 A.D., William Watson. Yale University Press,1995. Pages 57-60.) Watson suggests that the total outline of plaques were made to echo the scrolling movement of the filler motif, a combination of tiger heads and dragon-like fins.

An ornamental archer’s ring of celadon jade with yellowish tone, elongated in shape into two parts, the lower portion showing an oval shape with a central perforation was scientifically excavated at the tomb of the Western King of Nanyue, in Guangdong prefecture. It was found on the top part of the two pectorals of the “Concubine of the Right”. It is believed by archaeologists to be an individual pendant ornament. It is noted that the reverse side is flat with detail depicted in incised lines. See Jades from the Tomb of the King of Nanyue, Peter Y. K. Lam, editor. The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1991. Page 155, no. 66-67.

“This jade pendant is one of a series of shield-shaped forms with a central hole surrounded by dragons. Excavations and the representations on a textile from Noin Ula demonstrate that the form may be the central element from a particular type of pendant. It is possible that Dr. Hayashi’s suggestion that they evolved from an archer’s thumb ring is correct.” From the catalogue of Chinese Jade Throughout the Ages. Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, London, 1975. Page 53.

Another stylized form is illustrated in the cited publication above, no. 130. The writer notes that this type of pendant is related to a set of related pendants excavated at Mo-hsien, Shantung province. Op cit.

A number of comparable examples from excavated contexts are published in Zhongguo yuqi quanji, Vol. 4 (Shijiazhuang: Hebei Art Publishing, 1993)

There are several jades in the collection of Simon Kwan, which bear a stylistic relevance to the present pendant. The openwork dragon-shaped ornament, dated to the Warring States period (fifth to second centuries), shows surfaces that are covered in incised cross-hatchings, c-shaped scrolls and other patterns. The Kwan example appears less contrived in the treatments of these elements. The surface is gently curved. Two other openwork oval discs in the Kwan collection, numbers 205 and 206, have a central hole and are generally oval in shape. Number 204 is meticulously executed in openwork. All three are dated Western Han to Eastern Han period and compare favorably with the Falk example in terms of stylistic and physical working of the jade. See Chinese Archaic Jades from the Kwan Collection. Yang Boda. The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1994. No. 204-6.

A stylistically-related openwork ornament of the Warring States period is illustrated in Renshi guyu (Understanding Archaic Jades) by Wu Tanhai. Republic of China Natural Sciences Study Association. Taipei, 1994. Pages 274-276. Mr. Wu suggests that the ornament form was intended to be part of a pectoral necklace consisting of numerous jades. The cited example has an openwork dragon and phoenix theme with slightly convex surface shape. It suggests that by the Warring States period, the form was already an archaism in a stylized form and had been reworked and adapted to be worn as prestige object denoting status.

A well-formed jade ornament depicting interlocking dragons, dated to the fifth to third century BC is published in The Shanghai Museum Ancient Chinese Jade Gallery. Shanghai, P.R.C., 1998. Page 25, plate at top left corner of page. This example compares stylistically with surface shape and surface elements to the Falk example. In contrast, the archaistic ornament with phoenix and serpent design unearthed from a Ming tomb at Beiqiao, Minghang, Shanghai is published op cit, page 37, top right hand side of page. This archaistic example mimics the Warring States example in design, but the surface elements are stylized and the surface shaping of the volutes and edge work is emulative rather than well understood from the earlier example. This emulation of earlier forms lies at the heart of archaism in the working of Chinese jades in successive periods.

See the jade pendant attributed to the Warring States period approximately 9 cm or 3-9/16 inches in length with a pair of rampant dragons flanking a cusped projection detailed with fine curled volutes incised on the jade surface which is said to have been excavated from Shouchou, Anhui Province. Published in Chinese Art of the Warring States Period: Change and Continuity, 480-222 BC. Thomas Lawton. Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1982. Page 144, number 90.


Other notable reference for other objects appear in: Selections of Chinese Art from Private Collections, New York, China House Gallery, China Institute in America 1986:

  1. Yinxu Fu Hao Mu, Beijing: Wenwu Press, 1980, pl. CLXIV: 3-4
  2. Chinese Archaic Jades in the British Museum, Soame Jenyns, London: British Museum, 1951, pl. XXXIII, XXXVIII:E
  3. Ancient Chinese Jades from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection, Max Loehr, Cambridge: Fogg Art Museum, 1975, nos. 451-3, 579
  4. Luoyang Zhongzhoulu, Beijing: Kexue Press, 1959, pl. 72:4
  5. 3000 Years of Chinese Jade, Alfred Salmony, New York: Arden Gallery, 1939, no. 201
  6. Carved Jade of Ancient China, Alfred Salmony, Berkeley: Gillick Press, 1938, pl. LXIII
  7. Chinese Carved Jades, S. Howard Hansford, London: Faber & Faber, 1968, pl. 50C
  8. Mancheng Hanmu fajue baogao, Beijing: Wenwu Press, 1980, vol. II, pl. CIII:2; p. 137, fig. 95:5; p. 139; fig. 17, no. 100, opposite p. 30
  9. “Haigyoku to ju,” Toho Gakuho Vol. 45, Hayashi Minao, 1973, pages 16-20; fig. 25
  10. Chinese Jade throughout the Ages, John Ayers and Jessica Rawson, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1975, p. 53
  11. Chinese Art of the Warring States Period, Thomas Lawton, Washington, D.C.: Freer Gallery of Art, 1982, entry for no. 93


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