Ancestor tablet


Implement: Handle (one corner chipped) of slightly translucent, dark, gray-green nephrite; the tang pierced for attachment.

Historical period(s)
Middle Shang dynasty, ca. 1400-ca. 1300 BCE
Jade (nephrite)
H x W x D: 17.9 x 1.6 x 1.1 cm (7 1/16 x 5/8 x 7/16 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view



Reportedly excavated in Anyang, Henan province [1]

From at least 1939
Zhang Naiji (1899-1948), Shanghai and New York, from at least February 1939 [2]

From 1939
Freer Gallery of Art, purchased through C.T. Loo & Company, New York from Zhang Naiji on April 17, 1939 [3]


[1] According to information provided by Zhang Naiji to John E. Lodge at the time of acquisition, see J. E. Lodge's note, 1939, in object file. Zhang Naiji stated that he had obtained the jades, selected by the Freer Gallery from a group of about 350 pieces offered for sale (F1939.6-F1939.26 and F1939.28-F1939.33), at the places of their excavation. Lodge commented in his 1939 note: "I see no good reason to doubt [Zhang's] statement. I have, therefore, specified Shou Chou, or An-yang, or Lo-yang (Chin Ts'un) as the source of a piece in accordance with Mr. Chang's [Zhang's] designations given in my presence and recorded by me."

[2] See note 1. See also "List of objects contemplated for purchase by Freer Gallery of Art," approved on February 1, 1939, Freer Gallery of Art Purchase List file, copy in object file. According to an annotation on the list, the purchase was made from C. T. Loo & Co., New York acting as agent for the owner and the payment was made on April 17, 1939. Zhang Naiji was a well known collector of ancient Chinese art objects and Chinese coins. While the earliest documentation of Zhang's ownership of the jade dates to February 1939, it is known that Zhang left China in 1938 and did not return there until 1946 [information kindly provided by Daisy Yiyou Wang, email correspondence of May 20, 2009, in object file].

[3] See "List of objects contemplated for purchase by Freer Gallery of Art," cited in note 2.


Implement: Handle (one corner chipped) of slightly translucent, dark, gray-green nephrite; the tang pierced for attachment.


1. Bought through C. T. Loo & Co. New York, from Chang Nai-chi. For price, see Freer Gallery of Art purchase List after 1920.

2. (J. E. Lodge, 1939) See folder sheet F1939.6

3. Several pieces resembling this one more or less in form have been published by Pelliot, Jades Archaiques de Chine, Plate XII and Salmony, Carved Jade of Ancient China, Plates IX, 1 and XX, 1, who, oddly enough, attributes a Shang date to the dagger handle shown in his Plate IX, and an "early Western Chou" date to the handle of a similar type shown in his Plate XX.

4. (T. Lawton, 1978) Cf. Loehr, Ancient Chinese Jades, nos. 112, 113 and 114.

5. (Julia Murray, 1981) Hayashi Minao reproduces a similar piece which he calls a ta-kuei [Chn] and which he described as a handle to be used together with a type of cup called tsan [Chn] in libation ceremonies.
See Hayashi Minao, "The Classification and Uses of Shang and Western Chou Ritual Bronze Vessels," Tohogakuho no. 53 (March 1981), p. 14, fig. 7; and text pp. 13-15.
(Hayashi does acknowledge the difficulty of explaining why so many jade "handles" but no corresponding cups have been found - a circumstance that casts doubt on the theory.)

6. (J. Smith per Keith Wilson, 7/16/2008) Ceremonial Object added as secondary classification.

7. (S. Allee, 10 November 2008) As per Jenny So Jade Project catalogue, changed period One from "Shang dynasty" to Late Shang-Early Western Zhou dynasty," added Previous owner to Constitents (Ex-collection Zhang Naiqi), changed Title from "Handle" to "Handle decorated with sharp overlapping scales," and added Dimensions as per Christine Lee.

8. (S. Allee, 02 June 2009) Corrected name of previous owner from Zhang Naiqi to Zhang Naiji and added Chinese characters, as well as his life dates (1899-1948) and a brief biography.

9. (S. Kitsoulis, 20 April 2010 per Keith Wilson) Object name changed from "Handle" to "Ceremonial object." Title changed from "Handle decorated with sharp overlapping scales" to "Ancestor tablet."
10. (Najiba Choudhury per Keith Wilson, 8/3/17) Object name changed from "Ceremonial object" to "Tablet"; period one changed from "Late Shang-Early Western Zhou dynasty" to "Middle Shang dynasty"; date changed from "12th-11th century BCE"; medium changed from "jade" to "Jade (nephrite)".

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