Tombs and ritual centers have yielded up the earliest jades found in China. Three jade-working cultures of the late Neolithic - geographically distinct but chronologically overlapping - were the Hongshan in the northeast (primarily Manchuria), the Longshan in the east (primarily Shandong and Shanxi provinces), and the Liangzhu in the southeast (primarily Anhui and Zhejiang provinces). Each culture produced its own distinctive types of jade, a favorite medium of the privileged classes of this period. The Hongshan jades represented here celebrates the beauty of sculpturally modeled form, emphasizing volumetric shape rather than surface décor. The thick, C-shaped pendant, popularly called the pig-dragon, assumes a curled, fetal form that perhaps symbolized fertility. It is perforated, suggesting that it was intended for hanging; the slits on the reverse of the plaque may have been used to sew it onto a cloth backing.
|Cong, prismatic tubes of the Liangzhu culture, have been found almost exclusively in burial contexts, indicating ritual and religious significance. Their precise meaning and function in Neolithic times are not clear, but their unique form of a circle within a square suggests some cosmological significance. One theory is that cong represented models of the universe, the circle symbolizing heaven, the square symbolizing earth. Although the surface of the inner circle is undecorated, the squared exterior is sometimes scored and often features highly abstract mask images, variously interpreted as humanoid or zoomorphic. This exceptionally large cong from Fanshan, called the "king of cong," is the most magnificent of all cong excavated to date. At each of the four corners tiny masks consisting of hypnotic, circular eyes and dash-like mouths and noses are carved in low relief. On each side between these masks are semihumans wearing feathered headdresses that embrace below creatures with extended limbs and claws.|