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An Introduction to Jade

Many countries have jade culture, but none of them has as long a history as China has. There is a Chinese saying: Gold is valuable but jade is invaluable. China’s jade culture has undergone a long process of development from the New Stone Age 10,000 years ago to the present. 

For the Chinese, jade had been the physical manifestation of spiritual virtue, the embodiment of all that is most desirable, for several thousand years. The earliest jade found in China was a piece of serpentine stoneware unearthed in the site of the Immortal Cave in Haicheng of Liaoning Province dating back to the New Stone Age, more than 12,000 years ago. The second was a small hanging jade article excavated in the site of Hemudu in Zhejiang Province dating back more than 7,000 years. Jade in that period was mainly used for personal decoration. A large number of exquisite jade objects were produced 4,000 years ago. Jade at that time was mainly used for witchcraft and as an emblem of privileges. In ancient times, as today, jade was also used for personal adornment. Jade rings, bracelets, pendants, beads, and the like appear very early.

During the Shang Dynasty (B.C 1600--B.C 1066,) craftsmen used metal tools to make new progress in jade models and sculpture. Round jade articles increased in number and jade was often given as gifts.  

The jade-carving technique developed fast in the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods. The Spring and Autumn period was known for its well- carved and exquisite jade. The coherent and undulating patterns of dragon, phoenix and Panli (a figure of Chinese folklore) on the jade decorations are still treasured today.

In the periods of the Qin and Han dynasties (B.C221--A.D220), jade became more practical and objects such as jade tablets fell out of use. There was strictly rule for officials on using jade to show different ranks by different patterns. At that time, people began to believe in the power of jade to increase longevity. They thought they would live forever like gods if they had jade. Therefore, the practice of burying the dead with jade became common. Invaluable jade figures and clothes sewn with gold threads have been found in tombs dating back to the Han dynasty. During the periods of the Three Kingdoms (A.D220--280) to Song and Yuan dynasties (A.D 960--1368), there was no great development in the jade-carving technique.

This changed in the Ming Dynasty when many still famous craftsmen emerged. In Ming Dynasty, jade ware was not only for decoration-used but have more practical use. Except the personal adornments like jade ring, jade pendant, jade beads from the ancient time, daily articles like jade cup, jade pot and jade bowls were more common. To that time, jade has been classified into 6 categories by their functions, sacrificial vessel, tools, ornaments, utensils and many other items (ancient music instruments made of jade, like jade flute). The jade technique peaked in the Qing Dynasty (A.D 1644--1911) under the advocacy of Emperor Qianlong. 

Jade in China is varied and can be divided into two categories: hard and soft. Jadeite was introduced to China from early Qing Dynasty from Burma. It was regarded as the "king of jade" and now more popular and more expensive than soft jade of China. Chinese Nephrite jade could divided to several styles according to their origins, Jade of Hetian in Xinjiang Province, Xiu jade in Liaoning Province, Lantian jade in Shaanxi Province and Nanyang jade in Henan Province. Good materials provide strong basics for jade carving, but the value of a jade object depends on the skills and reputation of craftsmen, the dates of carving, peculiar.

Jade ornaments have remained popular up until the present day. The purchase, wearing, and giving of jade items as gift is still very common. Jade is viewed as an ideal gift for couples making a mutual commitment and for one's children when they get married. The patterns of China's jade have rich connotations showing strong auspicious colors. Bats and gourds were often used as a basis for more than 100 patterns because the Chinese words (bat and gord) sounds like "good fortune" in the Chinese language. When a bat was carved on an ancient coin with a hole, it meant fortune was at hand. When many bats were put with birthday peaches, they referred to fortune and longevity. If bats were mixed with sika, birthday peaches and magpies, they also had a good meaning. All these reflected the ancient Chinese people's yearning for a happy life and revealed the essence of China's traditional culture. Even now, the Chinese retain the idea that in addition to being beautiful, jade can protect from misfortune and bring good luck.  

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