Lot 703. A superb and important large jade tiger pendant, Late Shang dynasty, Anyang, 13th-11th century BC; 4 9/16 in. (11.6 cm.) long (maximum, ear to tail), cloth boxEstimate USD 300,000 - USD 500,000Price realised USD 1,086,000© Christie's 2021

The thick disc has a central aperture drilled from both sides, the inner walls with remains of pronounced cutting ridges. The stone is of dark mottled green color with some buff-colored alteration to both sides at one edThe flat, curved pendant is in the shape of a crouching tiger and carved on each side in a double lines delineating a large eye, an ear, and markings on the body and the curled tail. The yellowish-green jade has some dark brown areas and opaque buff alteration. Together with a toned gelatin silver print of C. F. Yau, circa 1940, signed ‘Iraida/NY’ in red inkge.

ProvenanceTonying & Company, Inc., New York, prior to 1939.
C. F. Yau (Yau Chang Foo, 1884-1963) Collection, New York.
Dorothy Yau (Sze Zoh Yao, b. 1913) Collection, New York, acquired from the above, 10 November 1946.
By descent to George Tsoo-Ying Young (1935-2002), New York.

Literature3000 Years of Chinese Jade, Arden Gallery, New York, 1939, no. 66, illustrated on p. 97.

Exhibited: New York, Arden Gallery, 3000 Years of Chinese Jade, 10 January – 11 February 1939, no. 66.


By Robert D. Mowry

Exceptionally rare and exquisitely carved, this beautiful Shang-dynasty jade tiger pendant is important for many reasons: at 11.6 cm in length (maximum, ear to tail), it is one of the largest such pendants known;1 its imagery is powerful, and its condition is excellent; exhibited and published in New York as early as 1939, it has a distinguished provenance that can be traced from 1939 to the present; and, as it hasn’t been publicly shown or exhibited since 1939, it is fresh to the world’s eyes. Most important of all, however, it compares in style and quality to a jade tiger pendant excavated in 1976 from the tomb of Lady Fu Hao (d. c. 1200 BC) , a principal wife of Shang-dynasty King Wu Ding (r. c. 1250–c. 1192 BC), attesting not only to the importance of this piece but to the high status of the person for whom it was made; in fact, it might have been made for Shang royalty. In short, it ranks among the most important Shang jade tiger pendants to come to market in many decades.

A flat pendant embellished on both sides, this exceptional object would have been suspended by means of a cord, probably of silk, that was secured via the circular opening at the top the tiger’s head. It likely hung from the wearer’s belt, perhaps alone but possibly linked together with beads and other pendants.

The tiger, called hu or laohu in Chinese, is among the most recognizable of the world’s charismatic megafauna. Originating in China and northern Central Asia, the tiger was known to the earliest Chinese, who likely feared, admired, and respected it for its strength, ferocity, and regal bearing. Though its precise symbolism in Shang times (c. 1600–c. 1046 BC) remains unknown, the tiger doubtless played a totemic, tutelary, or talismanic role. By the Western Han period (206 BC–AD 9)—a thousand years after this pendant was made—the tiger was regarded as the “king of the hundred beasts”, or baishou zhi wang, due its power and ferocity and especially to the markings on its forehead which typically resemble the character wang , or “king”. In addition, not only did the tiger figure among the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac, but it gained a place among the auspicious animals that symbolize the four cardinal directions—the white tiger, or baihu, of the west, the azure dragon of the east, the vermillion bird of the south, and the black tortoise of the north. 

Each side of this flat jade pendant is embellished with identical imagery that shows the tiger crouching and set to pounce; its large head lowered, its mouth open, its fangs bared, its sizable forequarters tensed, its tail curled, this tiger exemplifies power, virility, and ferocity. Its pose is virtually identical to that of the tiger featured on the celebrated Shang-dynasty stone chime 2 excavated in 1950 from a tomb at Anyang, Henan province, the last Shang capital, and now in the collection of the National Museum of China, Beijing. (Fig. 1) This tiger also relates closely in presentation to that on Shang-dynasty engraved bones recovered at Anyang and now in the collection of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia (65-2-1A3 and 65-2-34). It also shows remarkable kinship to the tigers engraved on the convex face of a bone spatula excavated from Tomb M1001 at Xibeigang, Anyang, Henan province.5 


Fig. 1. Stone (Lingbi limestone) chime with tiger décor, Shang dynasty, probably 13th- 11th century BC. from Anyang, Henan province, National Museum of China, Beijing.

This pendant relates most closely to the tiger pendant measuring 13.3 centimeters long excavated at Anyang in 1976 from the tomb of Lady Fu Hao (d. c. 1200 BC).6 (Fig. 2) The crouching posture, the massive head and forequarters, the open mouth, the bared fangs, the stubby paws, and the curled tail with chevron stripes are all notably similar, as are the stylized surface markings that enliven the animal’s body, though the shape and arrangement of those markings varies from piece to piece. Both the present pendant and that of Lady Fu Hao sport a T-shaped appendage atop the head, as does the tiger on the Shang stone chime. The suspension hole in both the present pendant and the stone chime was drilled through the T-shaped appendage but in the Fu Hao pendant it was drilled through the tiger’s face, immediately in front of the eye. Apart from the color of the jade—the present pendant is a rich, warm brown, the Fu Hao pendant is white—the main difference between the two pendants is the basic shape: the present example claims an overall triangular shape with the tiger portrayed in a crouching position, its head and forequarters slightly raised, while the Fu Hao pendant, like an inverted jade huang, has an arced shape, the tiger’s body curved upward with its head and tail higher than its belly. 


Fig. 2. Jade tiger pendant, Shang dynasty, probably 13th century BC, from the tomb of Lady Fu Hao (d. circa 1200 BC), Anyang, Henan province, Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Beijing. ©ICphoto

A principal wife of Shang-dynasty King Wu Ding (r. c. 1250–c. 1192 BC), Lady Fu Hao was a powerful figure who gave birth to a royal prince and served as a military leader, apparently leading troops into battle.7 That jade objects of this type were buried in her tomb—along with some 2,000 other luxury items—attests to the importance of such pieces as well as to their elite associations. Presumably made during Lady Fu Hao’s lifetime or shortly thereafter, the objects recovered from her tomb must date to around 1200 BC, the approximate year of her death. The kinship of the present pendant to that from Lady Fu Hao’s tomb not only attests to its Shang-dynasty origins but points to a date of manufacture in the Shang period, probably between the late thirteenth and the mid-late eleventh century BC.

Characterized in Chinese as chenzixingyan, or eyes in the shape of the character chen, the tiger’s eyes on both the present pendant and that from Lady Fu Hao’s tomb are large and similarly shaped, with a large, circular iris and a distinctive, downward-pointing hook at the front. They share those same eyes with the tiger on the stone chime, with the jade tiger-form jue recovered from the tomb of Lady Fu Hao8, with the jade owl-form pendant also from Lady Fu Hao’s tomb—also called a “jade bird-form knife”9—with the jade tiger-form jue excavated in 1954 and now in the Tianjin Museum,10 and with the small Shang jade sculpture of an elephant excavated in 1935-36 from Tomb M1567 at Xibeigang, Anyang and now in the Academic Sinica, Taipei (no. R001579).11 In fact, large, downward-hooked eyes are a characteristic feature of Shang pictorial art and typically appear in the animal faces on contemporaneous bronze ritual vessels.

The fangs of the tigers on both the present and the Lady Fu Hao pendants appear large and sharp. In typical Shang fashion, they were created by drilling four to six small holes around the periphery of the generally circular mouth, the jade points separating one hole from the next representing the fangs. By contrast, the paws of the tigers on Shang pendants are usually stubby and cursorily rendered as witnessed by both the present example and that from Lady Fu Hao’s tomb, the toes and associated claws indicated by intaglio lines that are short, curved, and shallow.

The spot on the tiger’s neck on both the present pendant and that of Lady Fu Hao resembles a shield turned on its side—a shield in the form of an escutcheon with an engrailed, or scalloped, top. The jade tiger-form jue recovered from the tomb of Lady Fu Hao and the Shang stone chime show the same shield-form spots, as do several small Shang jade sculptures of tigers, including the one in dark brown jade recovered from Lady Fu Hao’s tomb12 and the one sold at Christie’s, Hong Kong, on 29 November 2020 (Lot 2727).13 Those same shield-form markings appear along the bodies and tails of the tigers on the previously mentioned engraved bones excavated at Anyang and on those in the University of Pennsylvania Museum as well as on a bone engraved with a tiger and now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, New York (1985.214.120),14 indicating that they definitely represent stripes and spots.

Another important stylistic feature of the present pendant, the one from Lady Fu Hao’s tomb, and the Shang stone chime is the use of evenly spaced, paired lines to describe details, those lines sometimes termed “double lines”. On first inspection such details appear to be described with lines that rise in low relief; in fact, that appearance is an optical illusion, or trompe-l’œil effect , as those slender “relief lines” are actually flush with the object’s surface and seem to rise in relief only because of the intaglio lines, or grooves, that flank them. Such trompe-l’œil relief lines are a feature of the finest Shang jades, including virtually all of the previously mentioned examples.

This pendant’s stone is nephrite jade, known as ruanyu in Chinese, which had become the preferred hardstone among Chinese by Shang times. As seen in its midsection, the jade of this pendant is a warm, brownish green in color, though many areas show a deep brown color perhaps due to surface accretions that accumulated over time or possibly due to exposure to heat or fire. The orange material within the mouth and underneath the neck and legs is cinnabar (mercury sulfide), which was sprinkled liberally in Shang tombs perhaps in an attempt to restore the “blush of life”; it typically adheres to artifacts recovered from those tombs.

This pendant is not only large but exceptionally thick, varying up to 9 millimeters, which further attests to the wealth and status of the person for whom it was made. Shang jades often vary slightly in thickness, an emphasis on uniform thickness coming into play only much later. The slight unevenness of this pendant’s surfaces, including the minor depression in the tiger’s midsection, likely was present in the original stone (i.e., the raw material). As jade was rare, valuable, and highly prized, early Chinese were reluctant to remove stone merely to achieve uniform thickness in the finished piece. They considered jade to be the most precious of all materials, prizing it above gold, silver, and other materials; that reverence for jade, or chongyu—which some anthropologists consider a defining characteristic of Chinese culture—speaks to the desire to preserve as much of the original stone as possible.

The “slice mark” through the tiger’s face on one side of this pendant is an artifact of slicing the original raw material—probably a large pebble or small boulder of nephrite—into discrete, flat segments that could be shaped and decorated as pendants and other objects. Because of the desire to preserve as much as possible of the valuable stone, the slice mark was not smoothed over, let alone abraded away; in that sense, uniformity of thickness was sacrificed to preservation of material.

Not only large and superbly carved, this exquisite jade tiger pendant has a long and distinguished pedigree that can be traced back to its first publication in 1939, when it was loaned by C. F. Yau (Chang Foo Yau) President of the prominent Chinese art dealer Tonying & Company, Inc., to an exhibition of Chinese jade carving at Arden Gallery in New York. (Figs. 3 and 4) Moreover, with kinship to a jade tiger pendant excavated from the tomb of Lady Fu Hao, wife of a Shang king, and with close aesthetic and stylistic ties to jades, chimes, and engraved bones recovered from other Shang royal tombs, this pendant takes its place among the most celebrated luxury objects from the late Shang period. A jade of exquisite beauty, this tiger pendant is truly the rarest of treasures.

Robert D. Mowry
Alan J. Dworsky Curator of Chinese Art Emeritus,
Harvard Art Museums, and Senior Consultant, Christie’s

1. Measuring sixteen centimeters in length, a Shang jade tiger pendant excavated at Anyang and now in the Anyang Museum of Art is longer and thicker than the present one; despite the quality of its carving, however, its stone lacks the quality of the present one. See: Guojia wenwuju [National Cultural Artifacts Bureau], ed., Zhongguo wenwu jinghua daquan: Jin, yin, yu, shi juan [A Compendium of Chinese Art: Gold, Silver, Jade, Stone Volume], (Hong Kong: Commercial Press), 1994, p. 24, no. 73.
2. See: http://www.kaogu.cn/cn/kaoguyuandi/kaogusuibi/2018/0328/61481.html
3. See: https://www.penn.museum/collections/object_images.php?irn=240676
4. See: https://www.penn.museum/collections/object_images.php?irn=14380
5. See: Uchida (Nanba) Junko, “Inkyo shutsudo no iwayuru kotsushi ni tsuite (jo)” [A Study of Carved Bone Objects Excavated at the Yinxu Tomb HPKM1001], Part 1, Kodai bunka, December 1995, vol. 47, no. 9, p. 26, fig.1.
6. See: Zhongguo shehui kexue yuan kaogu yanjiusuo bianzhu [Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences], ed., Yinxu Fuhao Mu [Tomb of Lady Hao at Yinxu in Anyang], 1st edition (Beijing: Cultural Relics Publishing House), 1980, p. 161, fig. 84, no. 12 and color plate 28, no. 2 (358).
7. For information on Lady Fu Hao and her tomb, see: National Palace Museum, ed., King Wu Ding and Lady Hao: Art and Culture of the Late Shang Dynasty, 1st ed., (Taipei: National Palace Museum), 2012.
8. See: Zhongguo shehui kexue yuan, ed., Yinxu Fuhao Mu, 1980, color plate 104, no. 3 (392).
9. See: Zhongguo shehui kexue yuan, ed., Yinxu Fuhao Mu, 1980, color plate 120, no. 3 (383).
10. See: See: Tianjin bowuguan [Tianjin Museum], ed., Tianjin bowuguan cangyu [Jade Wares Collected by the Tianjin Museum], in the series Tianjin bowuguan jingpin xilie tuji, (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe), 2012, p. 45, no. 028.
11. See: National Palace Museum, ed., King Wu Ding and Lady Hao, 2012, p. 89.
12. See: Zhongguo shehui kexue yuan, ed., Yinxu Fuhao Mu, 1980, color plate 135, no. 2 (409).
13. See: https://www.christies.com/lot/lot-a-jade-carving-of-a-tiger-shang-6294077/
14. See: Maxwell K. Hearn, Ancient Chinese Art: The Ernest Erickson Collection, (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art), 1987, pp. 77 and 79, no. 117 (1985.214.120).

Christie's. Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, New York, 23-24 september 2021