Photo Credit/Source: Chinese Jade Carving
Jade has been adored and revered by the Chinese people since time ancient. From the dawn of civilization, in spite of the formidable tribulations that have fallen upon the Chinese, both sentiment toward jade and the tradition of jade artistry have endured the passage of time and remained undiminished in strength.
Archaeological data indicate that the ancients from seven to eight thousand years ago were acquainted with wondrous and durable nephrite and employed it in fashioning ornaments and grinding weaponry. In addition, they worked with beautiful stones, using them as jade simulants.
During the late Neolithic period, which predates modern society by approximately four to seven thousand years, rulers possessing the important powers in matters of religion and the military created the worship object from jade to worship the deities and ancestors. To honor the Spirit of the Heaven and Earth the round pi disk and square ts'ung tube were designed to accommodate the belief that the heaven was round and the earth square They believed that the lives of their forefathers originated with God and were mediated through supernatural beings. They accordingly depicted on these jade objects their visualizations of these divine images, and went so far as to incise meaningful markings as a form of worship. Relying upon jade's unique qualities of material, form, ornamentation, and markings, they sought to command mystical forces in the hope of communicating with the spiritual realm and partaking of divine wisdom.
The status of an individual in ancient society was determined by his perceived degree of association with the supernatural The li ritual for worship established channels of communication between the profane and spiritual worlds and promoted harmonious relations in society. The authority object stood as an emblem of the ruler's power and status.Originating in the late Neolithic, the Hsia, Shang, and Chou dynasties, this authority object and system of worship adapted and evolved according to the various political systems and social organizations of the respective time period. Whether in the worship ceremony held in the ancestral shrine or at the meeting convened by the ruler with his vassals, they assumed metaphysical significance and formed an integral part of the worship ceremony. As a consequence, they are referred to as ritual objects.
The precise delimitation between the Shang and Chou dynasties has remained an issue of controversy. As a reference to the viewer, one expert s opinion on the subject has been adopted in an effort to clearly arrange the displays in a chronological sequence. During the Eastern Chou Dynasty, humanism made its appearance. Recasting the ancient shamanistic practices into a system of moral beliefs with application to daily living, the Confucian scholars directly compared the virtuous man to jade. Pendants achieved great popularity and were exquisitely executed, attaining a degree of perfection unmatched in future ages.
The Han Dynasty imperial family held jade in great esteem. Living members wore pendants and ingested jade powder. The deceased were bound and stuffed with jade. Even the painted banner and tomb tiles were imprinted with the image of the pi disk. The belief in the round pi disk assisting the spirit in reaching the heavens received its greatest support at this time.
From the Six Dynasties to the T'ang Dynasty, jade artistry within the heartland of China suffered a decline. Despite the glory of the T'ang Dynasty which saw the resumption of the large-scale feng-shan ceremony and other ancient traditions, the sets of tablets used in this ceremony were now fashioned only using beautiful stones (as jade simulants). Among the relics passed down the generations, only the jade belt plaque, comb top, hairpin ornament, pendant, etc. can still be found. More likely than not, a portion hail from the lapidaries of the barbaric tribes in China's West.
From the Sung and Ming Dynasties onward, jade artistry recovered its former grandeur. Due in part to the emperor's use of jade in officiationg ceremonies, but even in greater part to the examination by scholars into the rituals of the Shang and Chou dynasties, popular movements both to research and forge ancient jades arose. Having within its collection many such exceptional quality jades, the National Palace Museum is presenting them in a specially designed display case.
The newly formed intellectual class of the Sung Dynasty cultivated their tastes in living. The displayed jade objects from the studio possessed ultilitarian functions in addition to providing visual delight. The most frequently seen motifs were those of flowers, birds, man, and landscapes, a fact which demonstrates the refined taste of the literati. Lastly, as the materials from which jades of this time were fashioned originate as river pebbles, jade craftsmen accommodated their carving techniques to the shapes they encountered. The resulting shapes and patterns were all imparted with deep, and usually auspicious meanings.
The jades from the Ch'ing imperial court at its height are characterized by their impressive size, neatness, and symmetry. They most frequently bear the dragon design, emblem of the emperor, various auspicious symbols, imperial inscriptions and marks. When finally outfitted with pedestals of sandalwood and placed in specially designed cases and boxes, they attain the majesty of the imperial palace itself. During this same period, Hindustan jade from Moslem territories made its appearance. Whether carved with floral decor in shallow relief, worked to a thinness rivaling that of paper, or even inlaid with colored glass or gold and silver thread, splendid Hindustan jade conveys the exotic appeal of a distant land.
Jadeite from Yunnan Province and northern Burma was imported in large quantites into China in the nineteenth century and quickly attracted its admirers, who continue to treasure its beauty. In summary, Chinese jade artistry boasts a long tradition, and derives much of its diversity from the differing styles and significance assumed by jades of differing periods. It is hoped that the present display will allow the viewer to experience the sheer magnificence and profundity of the ancient Chinese civilization.
The Definition and Classification of True Jade
Based on archaeological data, it has been shown that over several millenia within the vast Pacific region, there appeared numerous cultures which venerated or worshipped jade. These include the Olmec and Mayan civilizations on the American continent and the Maori Culture of New Zealand, in addition to, of course, the age-old Chinese civilization. As the "jade" relics from these cultures were most often found to consist of nephrite or jadeite, minerologists have limited the scope of true jade to include only these two substances.
Chemically speaking a silicate of calcium and magnesium, nephrite belongs to the amphibole group of minerals. It occurs primarily in dolomitic marbles or in serpentinized ultramafics. Throughout the ages, nephrite has been frequently employed as a working material. While the locations of the deposits that yielded very ancient nephritic jades aren't known, nephritic jades from the Shang Dynasty onward originate in dolomitic deposits of the Kunlun Moumtains in Sinkiang Province. As it has been collected for the most part in the Ho-t'ien District, it has been called "Ho-t'ien jade.Nephrite of this provenance appears in numerous colors. From a snowy white state in the absence of impurities, it darkens into various shades of bluish white in relation to the amounts of magnesium or iron present. An increase in the amount of ferric ion imparts a yellowish hue. When particular areas of a piece of white or bluish-white jade contain hematite, brown jade is obtained; graphite infusions, depending on their concentration lead to either grey or black jade. The fact that these two colorations frequently coexist in a given stone has been exploited by the jade craftsman. Examples of jades whose coloration and shape harmonize can be seen in the "Cup in the shape of an animal horn" and the world renowned "jade vase in the shape of a horned fish" splayed in this room.
Dark-green nephrite has its origins in the serpentinized ultramafics of Sinkiang Province's Tien Shan Ma Na Ssu. Similarly colored nephrite has been quarried in Hualien on Taiwan, New Zealand, Canada, and elsewhere.A silicate of sodium and aluminum, jadeite is classed as a pyroxene. Although in a class different from nephrite, jadeite shares many characteristics with it, namely a high degree of hardness and firmness, and a luster that lends an appearance of transparency. Additionally, variations is iron content result in brownish-red, dark green, or lavender hues. Presence of minute amounts of chromium yields emerald green. Finally, the characters in the Chinese appellation for jadeite, fei-ts'ui, are those for two species of kingfisher whose feathers are of a color similar to that of brownish-red and emerald green jadeite.
The Jade Simulants-rock Crystal, Chalcedony, and Lapis Lazuli
The ancients did not make fine distinctions between true jade and its simulants. The distributions of four classes of jade simulants: serpentine, feldspar, carbonate, and the quartz groups, are illustrated in the Geographical Location of Jade Deposits" found in the outer room.
Quartz group specimens are the most frequently observed jade simulants. Composed of silicon dioxide, quartz can be subdivided into the macrocrystalline and cryptocrystalline types, both of which can be further subdivided into numerous varieties. Among the varieties in the former class is the transparent, colorless rock crystal known to the ancients as "aquajade." Also numbered among these varieties are citrine containing the ferric ion, rose guartz containing the titanium ion, and amethyst containing iron hydroxide. Occasionally, quartz may by found with needlelike inclusions. Lastly, upon exposure to radiation, transparent rock crystal is transformed into the darkly colored smoky crystal as a result of an alteration in atomic structure.
Cryptocrystalline varieties, substances whose minute crystals are visible only under high magnification, and grouped under the name chalcedony and appear in numerous forms. Agate contains striae of assorted colors which form in the presence of coloring elements.
Another class, carnelian, can be identified as the "red jade" of antiquity. When interspersed with white chalcedony, it forms a material ideally suited to carving techniques accommodating the natural coloration of a particular stone. In the displayed Carnelian brush washer decorated with bat and peach, the white area has been carved into the shape of a bat and fungus (Geoderma lucidum) which puns on and symbolizes the Chinese characters for good fortune and longevity. Chalcedony that lacks transparency is classified as jasper. On occasion it has been found in a form that displays a multi-layered effect and resembles a culinary delicacy, attributes that have endeared it to the Chinese.
The dark blue areas in lapis lazuli are lazurite. Additional inclusions can be those of calcite and the gold-speckled pyrite. Nevertheless, the most noteworthy attribute of lapis lazuli is its soothing ultramarine color. Studies by scholars have shown that it was known in antiquity as ch'iu-lin.
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