One of the most legendary stories about Chinese jade comes from a small providence in China some 2500 years ago. The story starts about a man names Bian He from the providence of Chu. Bian He discovered what he believed to be a rough piece of jade in the hills near his home. So excited by his find Bian ran to the ruler of Chu, King Li, to show off his find.
The results were not so exciting. King Li, who believed he was being cheated, ordered Bian Hes leg to be amputated. The next ruler, King Wu, soon came into power. Bian He, not discouraged by his previous results, approached the new king with his rough stone. King Wu also believed he was being played false and ordered Bian He’s last remaining leg to be cut off. When King Wu of Chu passed and King Wen came into power the persistent discoverer approached his new king with his discovery. This time the new king listened and believed Bian He.
King Wu ordered for the stone to be immediately cut into by his sculptors. What they discovered influenced China for millennium to come. To the amazement of the sculptors the rough stone was actually one of the highest quality pieces of white jade ever to be discovered. The piece of white jade was carved into a disc and named the “He Shi Bi” in honor of Bian He which translates literally to “The Jade Disc of He”. Later in time this prized jade disc stolen from the kingdom of Chu and sold to Zhao. The year was 283 BC. One of the most famous stories about jade tells of how a single piece of jade that could fit into the palm of your hand was once traded for 15 cities. Here is the true account of the incident.
King Zhaoxiang of Qin wanted the jade disc and offered to exchange 15 cities to Zhao for it. Zhao’s minister, Lun Xiangru, was given possession of the He Shi Be to make the exchange. Lun travelled to Qin for the trade and soon found out that King Zhaoxiang did not intend to uphold his side of the bargain. The Minister of Zhao threatened to smash the jade artifact and somehow managed to steal the disc back, returning it to Zhao unharmed. About 60 years later another story told about the He Shi Bi.
The year was 221 BC. The six warring states of China were concured by the first emperor of China, Qinshihuang, who united the country. Thus starting the Qin dynasty. Qinshihuang inherited the infamous jade disc and soon ordered it to be carved into his imperial seal. Into the jade disc was carved the words “Having received the mandate from heaven, may the emperor lead a long and prosperous life”. The seal was soon dubbed the Imperial Seal Of China and was passed through the many Chinese dynasties for the next 1500 years. The seal was seen as a legitimizing signal of the mandate of heaven. Through its possession the bearer was seen as the rightful ruler of China. It is not known how the imperial seal of China was lost though it is reported to be within the years 907 and 960 AD. The rest is history.