History of Jade in China
"Jade" is a term used for a very durable ornamental green rock that has been fashioned into tools, sculptures, jewelry, gemstones, and other objects for over 8,000 years. It was first used to manufacture ax heads, weapons, and tools for scraping and hammering because of its toughness. At later time, because some specimens had a beautiful color and could be polished to a brilliant luster, people started to use jade for gemstones, talismans, and ornamental objects.
The name is derived from the Spanish” piedra de la ijada”, which means "stone of the colic." There was a belief that when jade was placed on the stomach, it could cure colic in babies.
Originally, all jade objects were thought to be made from the same material. However, in 1863 , Augustin Alexis Damour (19 July 1808, in Paris – 22 September 1902, in Paris) a French mineralogist who was also interested in prehistory, discovered that the material known as "jade" could be divided into two different minerals: jadeite and nephrite. Because these two materials can be difficult to distinguish, and because the word "jade" is so entrenched in common language, the name "jade" is still widely used across many societies, industries, and academic disciplines.
Nephrite deposits have been found in China, New Zealand, Russia, Guatemala and the Swiss Alps. Dark green jade, so-called Canada jade, is also found in Western Canada. Jadeite is found in China, Russia and Guatemala, but the best stones come from Burma, now known as Myanmar.
Nephrite consists of a microcrystalline interlocking fibrous matrix of the calcium, magnesium-iron rich amphibole mineral series tremolite (calcium-magnesium)-ferroactinolite (calcium-magnesium-iron). The middle member of this series with an intermediate composition is called . The higher the iron content, the greener the colour. Usually ranges in color between white, cream, and dark green.
Jadeite is a sodium- and aluminium-rich pyroxene. The precious form of jadeite jade is a microcrystalline interlocking growth of jadeite crystals. Usually it can be found in various shades of white to dark green, sometimes gray, pink, lilac, red, blue, yellow, orange, black, colored by impurities.
People have used jade for at least 100,000 years. The earliest objects made from jade were tools. Jade is a very hard material and is used as a tool because it is extremely tough and breaks to form sharp edges. "Toughness" is the ability of a material to resist fracturing when subjected to stress. "Hardness" is the ability of a material to resist abrasion. Early toolmakers took advantage of these properties of jade and formed it into cutting tools and weapons. It was used to make axes, projectile points, knives, scrapers, and other sharp objects for cutting. Most jade does not have a color and translucence that is expected in a gemstone. However, when early people found these special pieces of jade, they were often inspired to craft them into a special objects.
The Neolithic period began in China around 10,000 B.C. and concluded with the introduction of metallurgy about 2,000 B.C. In China, as in other areas of the world, Neolithic settlements grew up along the main river systems. Those that dominate the geography of China are the Yellow river (central and northern China) and the Yangzi river (southern and eastern China).
In Neolithic Age people no longer lived only on collecting foods directly from nature. Instead they began to take up agriculture production and raise livestock: Seeds were used to plant new vegetables; Wild animals were domesticated and their meat cooked for food. The appearance of agriculture and stockbreeding is one of the three features of the Neolithic Age. The other two are that grinding stone implements were started to be made as necessity in the daily life and pottery was invented then.
|Ceremonial cong of jade (calcined nephrite), 3rd millennium BCE, Neolithic Liangzhu culture; in the Seattle Art Museum,|
Social development at that time is reflected by the development of pottery craft. In the very beginning, the pottery was simple in craft and patterns without any decoration. Most wares then featured in round and flat bases. Later the pottery was mainly made into red and brown wares with relatively delicate craft. After that, the painted pottery gradually, popular around the area of Yellow River, became the mainstream, among which red pottery and black-grey pottery took a large percent. Another aspect that delineates this age is the appearance of handcraft such as wares made from jade and weaving skills.
At the beginning , the Neolithic cultures developed pretty much independently , in the middle period cultures which were geographically close started to connect and exchange which gradually led to the formation of the first states .
Of all aspects of the Neolithic cultures in China, the use of jade made the most lasting contribution to Chinese civilization. Polished stone implements were common to all Neolithic settlements. Stones to be fashioned into tools, weapons and ornaments were chosen for their harness and strength to withstand impact and for their appearance. Nephrite, or true jade, is a tough and attractive stone. In the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang, particularly in the areas near Lake Tai, where the stone occurs naturally, jade was worked extensively, especially during the last Neolithic phase, the Liangzhu, which flourished in the second half of the third millennium B.C. Liangzhu jade artifacts are made with astonishing precision and care, especially as jade is too hard to “carve” with a knife but must be abraded with coarse sands in a laborious process. The extraordinarily fine lines of the incised decoration and the high gloss of the polished surfaces were technical feats requiring the highest level of skill and patience. Few of the jades in archaeological excavations show signs of wear. They are generally found in burials of privileged persons carefully arranged around the body. Jade axes and other tools transcended their original function and became objects of great social and aesthetic significance.
The Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BCE)
In the Shang dynasty and particularly at Anyang, the craft of jade carving made a notable advance. Ceremonial weapons and fittings for bronze weapons were carved from jade; ritual jades included the bi, cong, and symbols of rank. Plaques and dress ornaments were carved from thin slabs of jade, but there are also small figurines, masks, and birds and animals carved in the round, some of these perhaps representing the earliest examples of spirit vessels”, artistic figures substituted for live victims buried in order to serve the deceased.
Zhou Dynasty. (ca. 1050–256 B.C.)
In the Zhou, production of jade Shang ritual forms was continued and their use systematized. Differently shaped sceptres were used for the ranks of the nobility and as authority for mobilizing troops, settling disputes, declaring peace, and so on. At burial, the seven orifices of the body were sealed with jade plugs and plaques. The introduction of iron tools and harder abrasives in the Dong (Eastern) Zhou led to a new freedom in carving in the round. Ornamental jades, chiefly in the form of sword and scabbard fittings, pendants, and adornment for clothing, were fashioned into a great variety of animals and birds, chiefly from flat plaques no more than a few millimetres thick.
Qin Dynasty. (221–206 B.C.)
Although short lived, the Qin Dynasty will always be celebrated in Chinese art for at least one achievement - its role in creating the multi-figure terracotta sculpture known as The Terracotta Army, an extraordinary set of military warriors designed to protect the Qin emperor in the afterlife. In general, therefore, Qin cultural activities followed traditions initiated during the time of Shang Dynasty art (1600-1050 BCE) and or the Zhou era (1050-256 BCE). Jade objects were becoming increasingly embellished with animal and other decorative designs. Continuing the work of Zhou carvers who became highly skilled in the creation of detailed relief work Qin artists push that skill one step further and put that precise work on items like belt-hooks, clasps and plaques that were part of the typical aristocrat's wardrobe.
Han Dynasty. (206 B.C.–220 A.D.)
The most extraordinary jade artworks of the Han Dynasty were the "jade suits" made for deceased nobles to ward off evil spirits in the afterlife. These amazing ensembles, include those for Prince Liu Shen and his wife Princess Dou Wan, made from over 2,000 jade plaques sewn together with as much as almost threequarters of a kilo of gold thread. Another jade suit, fashioned from more than 4,000 plaques, was discovered in the royal tomb of Zhao Mo.
|Han dynasty (2nd century BCE - 2 century CE). Made from hundreds of small rectangles of jade stitched together using gold and silver wire, they were used to completely encase the body of deceased royalty.|
Six Dynasties. (220–589)
Following the era of Han Dynasty art, China experienced nearly four centuries of upheaval and dislocation between north and south, known as the Six Dynasties Period. During this time, Chinese art was permeated by a number of outside ideas, and the characteristics of traditional Chinese art were influenced by new cultural practices
Sui Dynasty. (581–618)
There are a few important characteristics associated with jade carvings from this period. The most prevalent change of the time is lifelike realism, as exhibited in the increasing adoption of natural elements such as flora, fauna, and human figures for aesthetic expressions.
Tang Dynasty. (618–906)
An important contributor to Chinese art, and a high point in Chinese civilization, the Tang Dynasty provided the first real stability since the collapse of the Han Dynasty in 220 CE. Building on the political and administrative structures put in place by its predecessor the Sui dynasty (589–618), and making full use of its growing population to dominate central Asia and the kingdoms along the Silk Road, the Tangs presided over a period of growth and prosperity, marked by successful military and diplomatic campaigns, intensified commerce along overland trade routes (to Syria and Rome) as well as increased maritime trade with countries from around the world. This prosperity - combined with increased cultural contacts with its Asian neighbours (notably Korea, Japan, and Vietnam), as well as Middle-Eastern and European peoples - helped to revitalize the former practices of Sui Dynasty art, and instigated a renaissance in many different types of art, including music and poetry as well as Chinese painting and ceramic art. Ruled from its capital Changan (present-day Xian) - then the most populous and culturally diverse city in the world - Tang China rapidly became one of the greatest empires of the medieval epoch. Foreign influences arrived and impacted the Chinese jade art significantly. Stones similar to jade but not jade itself were used in ceremonies. The only jade artifacts from this period that have survived are items like combs, belt plaques, hairpins and pendants.
Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms. (907–960)
Five Dynasties was a period of time between the fall of the Tang dynasty and the founding of the Song dynasty , when five would-be dynasties followed one another in quick succession in North China. The era is also known as the period of the Ten Kingdoms because 10 regimes dominated separate regions of South China during the same period. The confused state of northern China under the Five Dynasties was not conducive to development of the jade carving.
Song Dynasty. (960–1279)
Given the archaizing fashion of the Song, jades of this period are often difficult to detect. As the technique of jade carving had changed little over time , these are hard to distinguish from genuine archaic jades except by a somewhat playful elegance and a tendency to combine shapes and decoration not found together on ancient pieces
The era of Song Dynasty art was brought to an end by nomads from Mongolia, whose agenda did not include the promotion of Chinese art in any form. Jade carving techniques did not advanced during this period although objects made from jade were very popular.
Ming dynasty may be considered as one of the most intriguing and complicated times in Chinese history. Under a totalitarian rule which was extremely conservative, a merchandise economy emerged to loosen up the traditional, rigid social hierarchy. In art and culture, the duality expressed itself through highly changeable, even contradictory styles. Jade of the period was no exception and developed into brand new looks combining humanistic and secular tastes.
The finest Qing dynasty jade carving is often assigned to the reign of Qianlong. Typical of what is considered of Qianlong date are vases with lids and chains carved from a single block, vessels in antique bronze shapes with pseudo-archaic decoration, fairy mountains, and brush pots for the scholar’s desk.
Jade in Chinese culture
Chinese people love jade not only because of its aesthetic beauty, but also because of what it represents in terms of social value. Confucius said that there are 11 De, or virtues, represented in jade. The following is the translation:
"The wise have likened jade to virtue. For them, its polish and brilliancy represent the whole of purity; its perfect compactness and extreme hardness represent the sureness of intelligence; its angles, which do not cut, although they seem sharp, represent justice; the pure and prolonged sound, which it gives forth when one strikes it, represents music.
Its color represents loyalty; its interior flaws, always showing themselves through the transparency, call to mind sincerity; its iridescent brightness represents heaven; its admirable substance, born of mountain and of water, represents the earth. Used alone without ornamentation it represents chastity. The price that the entire world attaches to it represents the truth.
To support these comparisons, the Book of Verse says: "When I think of a wise man, his merits appear to be like jade."'
Thus, beyond monetary worth and materiality, jade is greatly prized as it stands for beauty, grace, and purity. As the Chinese saying goes: "gold has a value; jade is invaluable."
Jade in Chinese language
Because jade represents desirable virtues, the word for jade is incorporated into many Chinese idioms and proverbs to denote beautiful things or people.
For example, 冰清玉洁 (bingqing yujie) , which directly translates to "clear as ice and clean as jade" is a Chinese saying that means to be pure and noble. 亭亭玉立 (tingting yuli) is a phrase used to describe something or someone that is fair, slim, and graceful. Additionally, 玉女 (yùnǚ), which literally means jade woman, is a term for a lady or beautiful girl.
A popular thing to do in China is to use the Chinese character for jade in Chinese names. It is interesting to note that the Supreme Deity of Taoism has the name, Yuhuang Dadi (the Jade Emperor).
Chinese stories about jade
Jade is so engrained in Chinese culture that there are famous stories about jade. The two most famous tales are "He Shi Zhi Bi" (Mr. He and His Jade) and "Wan Bi Gui Zhao" (Jade Returned Intact to Zhao). As a side note, "bi" also means jade.
"He Shi Zhi Bi" is a story about the suffering of Mr. He and how he presented his raw jade to the kings again and again. The raw jade was eventually recognized as an invaluable kind of jade and was named after Mr. He by Wenwang, the king of the Chu State around 689 BCE.
"Wan Bi Gui Zhao" is the follow-up story of this famous jade. The king of the Qin State, the most powerful state during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), attempted to exchange the jade from the Zhao State using his 15 cities. However, he failed. The jade was returned to the Zhao State safely. Thus jade was also a symbol of power in ancient times.
Jade in religious use
Because of this and the belief in its indestructibility, jade from early times was lavishly used ritual objects, both Confucian and Daoist, and for the protection of the dead in the tomb.
Jade in people’s believes.
Beside the thing that jade is used in crafting many sacramental objects in all main religions in Asia there are a lot believes in magical and healing properties of Jade. A legend claiming Buddha’s tears are pure jade may be behind the theory that jade can treat eye disorders. Healers say the gemstone also benefits the hips, heart, spleen and thymus gland as well as aid poor digestion, relieve constipation and promote healthy hair. Jade should be worn so it rests on the skin over the troubled part of the body.
The much-vaunted substance appeared everywhere, from the mouths of opium pipes (to prolong the longevity of the smoker) to dining implements (to transfer energy to the food) and the palms of politicians (jade talismans were said to help the holder through tricky negotiations). While jade liquor is no longer in fashion and few people cram jade pieces into the mouths of corpses any more, a healthy respect for the stone remains. Jade bracelets, which are believed to be effective in combatting rheumatism, are worn by many people to this day.
Jade is considered a gemstone of good fortune, bringing its wearer or owner wealth, stability and love. Lovers exchange jade gifts to confirm their love and devotion to each other. Jade helps open the heart chakra while attracting love, enhancing sexuality and fertility. It is also a protective stone, guarding against misfortunes and accidents.
Jade is associated with the planets Jupiter and Pluto, and is the zodiac stone for Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Libra and Pisces. It is the birthstone for May and the gemstone commemorating the 12th wedding anniversary
The Colors of Jade
According to gemstone therapy jade "stimulates creativity and mental agility on the one hand, while also having a balancing and harmonizing effect”. Green jade is calming when held. Lavender jade helps ease emotional and mental problems because it radiates love, beauty and security. Blue jade encourages the mind’s thought processes and imagination, and mauve jade’s gentle vibration helps the wearer’s spiritual needs.
Orange jade gives its wearer energy. Red jade vibrates at a higher energy level, helping bring anger to the surface so the wearer can deal with it and move on to more positive occupations.
As we can see , Jade is one of the verz important elements of Chinese culture and has great significance in many aspects of life , as well in the past as it has it now.