Introduction


?€?€The National Palace Museum inherited the Ch'ing (1644-1911) imperial collection of ancient jade carvings, which was largely composed of pieces from the upper and central areas of the Yellow River valley. The form and content of this collection not only demonstrates the particular tastes of the Ch'ing court, but it also reflects traditional notions of jade and jade collecting. Traditional attitudes toward ancient jade, which persisted until the end of the Ch'ing, were largely derived from classical texts. The jade kuei tablets, chang (multi-holed jade blades), pi disks, ts'ung tubes, huang pieces, and other ritual objects on display here generally date from the late Neolithic to the early Bronze age (2200-1600 B.C.).

?€?€Current scholarship suggests that these jades were primarily worked and used by the Ch'i-chia Culture of the upper Yellow River valley, and by the T'ao-ssu and Erh-li-t'ou cultures of the central Yellow River valley. It appears that the Ch'i-chia, in particular, figured prominently among the jade carvings that eventually found their way into the Ch'ing collection. The upper reaches of the Yellow River were once home to abundant sources of the very types of jade that traditional Chinese collectors prized most highly. Easy access to these resources made it possible for the ancient Ch'i-chia people to develop a distinctive style of jade carving. Their pieces are characterized by their large size, high quality, and simplicity. Of the jades on display in this exhibit, the large pi disks, ts'ung tubes, and huang pieces are all attributed to the Ch'i-chia Culture.

?€?€Ch'ing imperial collectors, in an effort to revive the classical ritual systems of the "Three Dynasties" (Hsia, Shang, Chou), deliberately selected pieces that matched the six standard forms of ritual jade recorded in the Rites of Chou (Chou li), a classic text from the late Warring States period (4th??rd centuries B.C.). These six forms are the kuei tablet, chang blade, pi disk, ts'ung tube, huang, and hu tiger. The direction of the court's collecting efforts were further influenced by the famous Ch'ing connoisseur-emperor Kao-tsung (Ch'ien-lung), who particularly admired the green-and-white, pure white, and "sugar-brown and white" jades found near the central and upper reaches of the Yellow River valley. The Ch?™ien-lung Emperor not only enjoyed handling the ancient jades in his collection, but he also ordered them inscribed with his calligraphy and outfitted with specially designed stands and boxes. These efforts demonstrate the extant to which Kao-tsung cherished certain types of jade, and, by implication, the impact that his personal taste had on the content of the palace collection. One of the jade kuei tablets on display is an example that was prized at the Ch'ing court.

?€?€One of the goals of this exhibit is to reconstruct the original cultural context of these jades by examining the role(s) that they played in the ritual systems of the prehistoric inhabitants of the Yellow River valley. The diversity of these pieces demonstrates the intellectual complexity of the ancient societies that produced them. As demonstrated by the uniqueness of the texture, coloration, and form seen in the "sugar-brown and white" pi disk featured in this exhibit, ancient jades are powerful reminders of long forgotten cultures and environments. Through them, we may begin to fathom China's distant past.

The displays in this exhibit are arranged into two thematic groups distinguished by color. Darker colors mark the display cases in the front and central sections of the gallery. Here, an effort has been made to present the jades as they were grouped and displayed in the Ch'ing court. By viewing the pieces in this format, one may gain a more direct understanding of traditional attitudes toward jade and jade collecting. Consequently, this section has been titled "Traditional Perspective". The displays in the rear areas of the gallery, by contrast, use brighter colors to emphasize the present-day spirit of jade research. Here, the exhibit focuses on re-examining the jade collection from a modern perspective that incorporates the latest research in anthropology, archeology, and mineralogy, and other fields. This section, labeled "Modern Perspective", has also been subdivided into five subdivisions. The first questions traditional notions of so-called huang pieces. Archaeological research now allows for the reconstruction of jade circle arrangements originally composed of such huang pieces. These arrangements suggest the possible existence in prehistoric times of a sense of geometry. Second, current findings suggest that pi and ts'ung of the Ch'i-chia culture were originally parts of jade ritual sets. Third, mineralogical studies of the natural coloring of jades combined with the views of anthropologists points to how prehistoric cultures in China treated jades as part of the environment. Fourth, traces left on ancient jades allows us to study how they were made and how they relate to matters of religion. Finally, in the past, the reworking of prehistoric jades from the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River valley involved mostly surface engraving, but some were also redesigned for other functions. This exhibition of jades can only provide glimpses of these prehistoric cultures, which have gradually just come into focus in recent years. Though the results are often still fragmentary and incomplete, the jades displayed here open a concrete path to unlocking the secrets of China's prehistoric cultures in the Yellow River valley.