Beads of this type are known as gangmao, amulets that were popular during the Han dynasty, which were also made in other materials, including ivory, gold and wood. The inscriptions on gangmao ranged from twenty-eight to thirty-two characters and were usually based on a thirty-four-character text meant to ward off evils. Gangmao were supposed to have been made between the hour of mao (corresponding to 5:00-7:00 am) on the cyclical day of mao in the first month of the year. Perhaps due to the brevity of production time, the inscriptions on gangmao are often hard to read as carvers tended to reduce the number of strokes and substitute characters. For a gangmao of Eastern Han date see the example excavated from the tomb of Houcun, Jingxian, Hebei province, illustrated by Gu Fang, The Complete Collection of Unearthed Jades in China, vol. 1, Beijing, 2005, p. 220.
The inscription on the cover of the brocade box reads: 'Han jade gangmao, best of the best, none is better.' The inscription on the underside of the cover states that the Han jade gangmao is a 'great work,' followed by the seal of Xu Hanqing. The inscription on the interior of the box states that the bead was a gift of Wang Wenxin in the third month of the jiaxu year (1934).
Wang was a close friend of Xu's, and was the grandson of Wang Yangdu, a great collector of the Daoguang period (1821-1850).