Dragon-shaped pendant ornament (pei), China, Warring States Period (approx

Dragon-shaped pendant ornament (pei), China, Warring States Period (approx. 480-221 BCE). Nephrite. H. 1/2 in x W. 3 3/8 in x D. 3/16 in, H. 1.3 cm x W. 8.6 cm x D. .5 cm. The Avery Brundage Collection, B60J664 © 2017 Asian Art Museum Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture.

The suspension hole for this long slender dragon-shaped pei is drilled directly in the center of the body, providing balance for the continuation of the parts of the pendant that were suspended from each end. The central abdomen rises in a high arch with a hole pierced through in the middle; the profile head and tail stretch up and back towards this arch. This creates a symmetrical S-shaped curve. The body of the dragon gradually becomes wider towards the midsection and narrows off again at the tail. Four small fins come off the body. The mouth has sharp and crisp contours and a ridge that extends upwards, ending in an upturned curl for a snout. A raised border surrounding the pendant encloses the surface pattern.

Unlike the two preceding examples (#32, 33) in which parts of the head and tails of the dragon were differentiated by differences in surface decoration, this dragon is covered by abstract patterns of uniform size and shape. These represent the next step in the development of surface decoration on Warring States period jades. Obviously derived from earlier comma-shaped patterns, these new elements are tightly wound, becoming more like a small spiral. Also in contrast with earlier surface patterns, these shapes are not linked, instead standing alone as individual motifs. In Chinese jade terminology these patterns are called "sprouting grain" due to their likeness to freshly sprouted grains of rice. These patterns do not continue over the head, which instead features well defined eyes, ears, jaw-line and snout.

Pendants were symbols of virtue and rank. By wearing them prominently as necklaces or chest ornaments, people knew the proper distance to keep from the wearer by the arrangement and types of pendants used. They were often worn in life and then buried with the dead. Dragon and phoenix pendants were distinct motifs of the Eastern Zhou. The dragon was thought to protect the deceased by warding off demons and keeping the spirits at an appropriate distance from the wearer.

This piece is relatively thick. The stone is a light green Khotan jade with no noticeable inclusions and very uniform color. There is a well-defined bulge and recession one side, apparently from the cut made through the stone with a string saw. The surface is slightly dulled from burial with some staining at the tail and under the head.

1. NPM, Collector's Exhibition, plate 49
2. Loehr, plate 433
3. Wu Hung, plate 24
4. Kaogu, 1991, no. 6, p. 517, no. 17
Published Loo, plate XLV, no. 5