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Though it was Japanese art that first picqued Charles Lang Freer’s interest in Asian art, it wasn’t long before the railroad magnate turned his attention to the rest of the continent; the “Ancient Chinese Jades and Bronzes” exhibition at the museum that bears his name showcases artifacts from Freer’s personal collection. Members of the Liangzhu culture in Southeast China used jade during the late Neolithic period to create such items as bi. The discs—produced more for ornamentation than function—are sometimes found near the stomach or chest at Neolithic burial sites. During the Bronze Age, members of the Western Zhou and Shang dynasties created bronze wine containers and grain servers decorated with dragons, tigers, and buffalo that somehow look both jovial and fearsome. Some artifacts in the collection are so old that they predate the invention of writing. According to the exhibit, the ancient Chinese deemed jade the “fairest of stones;” today, the semi-precious stone is more symbolic of fortune than reflective of it.
THE EXHIBITION IS ON VIEW 10 A.M. TO 5:30 P.M. AT THE FREER GALLERY, 1200 JEFFERSON DR. SW. FREE. (202) 633-4880.