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The Liangzhu Culture

In June 2006, archaeological excavations near Hangzhou, in Zhejiang province, led to the identification of the largest and earliest walled city in ancient China. Located south of the Yangzi River, the enormous settlement has been named Liangzhu after the modern site where evidence of the culture was first discovered in the early twentieth century. Following study of the many remarkable remains associated with these Neolithic (or New Stone Age) peoples, including palace foundations, royal tombs, craft workshops, and sophisticated jades, archaeologists date the influential Liangzhu culture from 3300 to 2250 BCE.

The Liangzhu must have placed great value on jade, judging by the high number and outstanding quality of jades found in their tombs. Since they did not have a system of writing, no records remain describing their historic events, religious beliefs, or leaders. Consequently, the meaning of objects, their specific origins, and the significance of their shapes and surface decorations are still unknown. How the Liangzhu regarded these bi and cong in ritual burials is difficult to surmise, yet they obviously held jade in high esteem, considering the untold hours required to craft these disks, tubes, and blades from an unyielding material.

Liangzhu patterns of jade use spread to other Neolithic cultures, including the Qijia and Sanxingdui, via China’s vast river systems. The influence of the prehistoric Liangzhu culture continued for centuries and can be found in early Bronze Age centers, such as Anyang, the capital of the late Shang dynasty.