He Shi Bi

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The He Shi Bi (Chinese: 和氏璧; pinyin: Hé Shì Bì; literally: "Jade disc of He") is a piece of jade which plays an important part in many historical stories in Ancient China. Found in the State of Chu by a man named Bian He, it was first made into a jade disc, then into the Imperial Seal of China by Qin Shi Huang.

Discovery[edit]

The story of how this precious jade was discovered has come from Han Fei in his book of the same name, in the beginning of Chapter 13: He Shi. He Shi means Surname He, referring to Bian He. Bian He found a piece of jade stone in Mountain Chu. He recognized the value of the jade inside the stone and made his offer to his King, Li. King Li had his jeweler examine the stone, who said it was mere stone. King Li punished He by having his left foot cut off. As King Li died and his son, Wu, came to the throne, He once again offered his grand stone to the King. Wu had his jeweler examine the stone, who said it was mere stone. King Wu then punished He by having his right foot cut off. As King Wu died and his son, Wen, came to the throne. He held his jade stone and cried for three days and three nights at the foothill of Mountain Chu. As he ran out of tears, blood came down his cheeks. King Wen sent his man to question him, asking, "Why, when many had their feet cut off, are you grieving so?" He replied, "I'm not grieving for my feet. I'm grieving for the wrongs that a precious jade is called a stone, and an honest man, liar." Upon hearing that, King Wen had his jeweler cut open the stone. A large pure jade was seen nestling inside the stone. In light of the discovery, King Wen named the jade He Shi in honor of what Bian He had done to uncover the jade. (He Shi Bi literally means 'The Jade Disc of He').

"Returning the Jade Intact to Zhao"[edit]

The jade disc, unfortunately, was stolen from Chu and eventually sold to Zhao; in 283 BC, King Zhaoxiang of Qin offered 15 cities to the State of Zhao in exchange for the jade (this is the origin of the Chinese saying 价值连城, 'Valued at multiple cities'). Zhao Minister Lin Xiangru was dispatched to send the jade to Qin. When it became clear that Qin would not uphold its side of the bargain, he tricked the king of Qin, claiming that the jade had a scar on it. The marquess of Qin said he could not find it, and handed it to Lin Xiangru and asked him where the scar was. The moment Lin Xiangru took the jade, he threatened to smash the jade unless the king of Qin promised to delay the swap 3 days. Secretly he told his servants to take the jade back to the king of the Zhao . Thus giving birth to another Chinese idiom, 完璧歸趙, literally meaning 'Returning the Jade Intact to Zhao', but extended to mean 'returning something to its rightful owner'.

Lin Xiangru[edit]

When the king of Qin found out, he was very angry and threatened to execute Lin Xiangru, Lin Xiangru quickly persuaded the furious king that there could be a real swap on the condition that Lin Xiangru could be spared. The king did not want a real swap, but agreed to spare Lin Xiangru's life because if he killed him, people would secretly laugh at the king. After Lin Xiangru returned to Zhao, the king of Zhao made him a high adviser.

The Imperial Seal[edit]

In 221 BC, Qin conquered the other six Warring States and founded the Qin dynasty; the He Shi Bi was then taken from the last duke of Zhao by Emperor Yin Zheng (who was known as the Qin Shi Huangdi of the Qin Empire), who ordered it made into his Imperial seal. The words, "Having received the Mandate from Heaven, may (the emperor) lead a long and prosperous life." (受命永昌) were written by Li Si (who was Prime Minister, Chief Councillor, State Chancellor and Premier of the Empire of Qin), and carved onto the seal by a man named Sun Shou. When Colonel Liu Bang attacked Xianyang, Ziying handed the jade over as a way of surrendering. This seal was to be passed on even as the dynasties rose and fell, but was lost between Tang and Ming.

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