April 1st 2013
Art of East Asia
Religion has always been a huge influence on history, whether it’s in the context of politics, culture or even art. The San Diego Museum of Art has a wonderful exhibit titled “Art of East Asia” that spans the scope of Asian art from their tombs and temples to their very own homes. However, one segment of the exhibit stood out among the others and was vastly interesting—this segment was that of the jade discs and jade burial artifacts. These were fascinating because they seemed so simple but had some of the most significant meanings in China and Japan.
Many clues to a cultures belief can be discovered from their art, this has never been truer than with the Asian cultures. For example, Confucian and Taoist beliefs focused heavily on respecting elders even after their death. This can be seen in the mass amount of wealth and art that they buried with their dead. Some of the most interesting things that were found in these tombs where the ornate circles crafted from jade. There are three different types of jade discs that can be found in prehistoric graves, the Pi-Disc, the Yuan disc, and the Huan disc. The main characteristic that differentiates the types of discs are the correlation between the diameters of the inner circle verses the diameters of the outer circle. These jade circles were common in tombs of people from every social status; however, royal tombs featured the rare and more ornate Pi-Disc (also known as a Bi-disc). This disc was found usually under the body or very close to it. The most prominent use of the pi-disc was found in Ch’ang-sha tomb #406 where many discs were found around the body of a Taoist official “pairs of discs flanked the head and knees, a fifth pi was in front of the skull and a sixth in between the inner and second coffins” according to Elizabeth Lyons in her article “Chinese Jades”. This use of the Pi-Disc demonstrates the importance in ritual...