Archer’s thumbring (ban zhi)

Historical period(s)
Warring States period, Eastern Zhou dynasty, ca. 5th-4th century BCE
Jade (nephrite)
H: 4.7 cm (1 7/8 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Jade, Jewelry and Ornament

Archer's thumbring

archery, bird, bow, carving, China, Eastern Zhou dynasty (770 - 221 BCE), incising, nephrite, Warring States period (475 - 221 BCE), WWII-era provenance

Reportedly excavated in Shouzhou, Anhui province, China [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.

Previous Owner(s)

Zhang Naiji 1899-1948
C.T. Loo & Company active 1908-1950


There was no research file for this object. Jenny Liu noted that the entire group of jades purchased from Zhang in 1939 was excavated in "Jincun? Henan" but she did not provide source or information supporting this statement.

Lodge 1939 (Curatorial Remarks, F1939.6) notes that "Jades numbered from F1939.6 to F1939.33 inclusive comprise the group selected by the Gallery from a collection of about 350 pieces offered for sale by [Chn] Chang Nai-chi, of Shanghai. Mr. Chang says that all these jades with two exceptions (F1939.27 and F1939.34) were got by him at the places where they were dug up, and I see no good reason to doubt his statement. I have, therefore, specified [Chn] Shou Chou, or [Chn] An-yang, or [Chn] Lo-yang ([Chn] Chin Ts'un) as the source of a piece in accordance with Mr. Chang's designations given in my presence and recorded by me." This piece was given Shouzhou provenance.

W. B. Trousdale (Curatorial Remarks, 1964): "Late Eastern Chou, or Warring States Period. The Shou Chou provenance is unverifiable, but reasonable. The object is probably a plectrum for a stringed instrument."

Julia K. Murray (Curatorial Remarks, 1980): "From the exhibition label:
These ornamental rings (39.23 - 39.26) are based on the shape of the thumb rings used by archer's to improve their aim. Jade examples have been found in Eastern Chou tombs at Chung-Chou-lu, near Loyang, Honan, and in the tomb of the Marquis of Ts'ai at Shou-hsien, Anhui. The earliest type (39.24) displays a convex surface, curvilinear projection, and concave top with tiny perforations. The shape gradually became flattened (39.26), and jade thumb-rings started to be used as pendants instead of rings.
The surface decoration on these rings consists of relief spirals and finely incised motifs, the latter appearing on the back and sides of the rings. The projecting element on 39.25 takes the form of an elegant bird standing on one leg.
All four thumb-rings are traditionally said to have come from Shou-chou, Anhui."

T. Lawton, Chinese Art of the Warring States Period: Change and Continuity, 480-222 B.C., exh. cat. (Washington, D. C.: Freer Gallery of Art, 1982), p. 162-63, no. 110: "…The Freer ring traditionally is said to have come from Shou-chou, Anhui Province. While that provenance is not verifiable, it is reasonable. Also to be considered are those objects published by William Charles White as coming from Chin-ts'un, Honan Province. White illustrates 2 jade and 1 bone archer's rings; he also mentions that several other rings were found at the site but does not illustrate them. Umehara Sueji in Rakuyo Kinson kobo shuei includes a thumb ring similar to the Freer example. That thumb ring, now in the Fogg Museum, is discussed by Max Loehr.
The earliest Chinese archer's thumb ring now extant was unearthed in the Shang dynasty tomb 5 an Anyang, Honan Province, in 1975-76. An animal mask in low relief dominated the outer surface of that ring, with the stylized body of a fantastic creature curving around the remaining portions. The sturdy proportions of the Anyang thumb ring suggest that it was meant for actual use, while the small size of the aperture on the Freer rings indicates that the piece may have been purely ornamental. In 1955 one jade and 3 bone archer's rings of this general type were unearthed near the hands of skeletons in 4 separate tombs at the Chung-chou-lu site near Loyang, Honan Province.
Several jade pieces very similar in shape and decoration to the Freer example have been described as musical picks."

Next Steps:

Check C. T. Loo's papers if there is any pre-1939 information on the group of jades F1939.6-F1939.34, on consignment from Zhang Naiji.
Frank Caro Archive research, 2.18.10: no information was found.

For Zhang Naiji research see F1939.6.

Jade Project Database provides as ref. Yang Jiangfang fig 130, p. 108 - Stephen is it Bei Zhou Sui Tang jing ji yu qi = Beizhou Suitang jingji yuqi / / bian zhe Liu Yunhui. Could you please check if this publication includes any provenance information? [it is on hold under my name]

Published References
  • Alfred Salmony. Chinese Jade Through the Wei Dynasty. New York, 1963. pl. 17, no. 1.
  • Na Chih-liang. "玉器通史." Yu ch'i t'ung shih (A General Study of Chinese Jade). Hong Kong, 1965. p. 35, fig. 41.2.
  • Chang Wen-chi. "中国玉器歷代史." Chung-kuo yu ch'i li tai shih. Hong Kong, 1978. p. 67.
  • Thomas Lawton. Chinese Art of the Warring States Period: Change and Continuity, 480-222 B.C. Washington, 1982-1983. cat. 110, p. 162.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
Rights Statement

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