He Shi Bi

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He Shi Bi
Literal meaningHe's jade disc

The He Shi Bi (Chinese: 和氏璧) or He's Jade Disc, was a jade bi disc which played an important part in many historical stories in Ancient China. Found in the State of Chu during the Spring and Autumn period by a man named Bian He (卞和), it was first made into a jade disc, then into the Imperial Seal of China by Qin Shi Huang.


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. As "Shi" in the title means "surname," the title is referring to Bian He. Bian He found a piece of jade stone in Chu's mountains. He recognized the value of the jade inside the stone and made his offer to King Li of Chu. 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. After 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. After 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 the mountain. When 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 a liar." Upon hearing that, King Wen had his jeweler cut open the stone. A large piece of pure jade was seen nested 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.

"Returning the Jade Intact to Zhao"[edit]

The jade disc 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 small defect on it. The marquess of Qin said he could not find it, and asked Lin Xiangru to show him where the scar was. The moment Lin Xiangru took the jade, he threatened to smash it unless the king of Qin promised to delay the swap by 3 days. Then he told his servants to secretly 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'.

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

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 Qin Shi Huangdi, 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 Chancellor Li Si, 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. The seal was to be passed on even as the dynasties rose and fell, but was lost between the Tang and Ming dynasties.