The gold and jade culture of Zhou represented the lifestyles, concepts, and values of the Zhou aristocracy. Aside from being instruments for ritual summoning and differentiating status and rank, jade could be used as ornaments as well. Jade ornaments were typically used to emphasize status at important ceremonies. For the living, jade exemplified many virtues, and was representative of the inner character of true gentlemen. For the deceased, jade could strengthen the spiritual energy of the soul, and assist the spirit in reaching heaven. Thus a wide variety of jade artifacts have been unearthed at Zhou archaeological sites, some organized in sets for different purposes and occasions. In addition to its contemporary works, the Zhou were interested in collecting pieces from the past, and enjoyed modifying or recombining pieces to form new designs. In addition to jade, Zhou men of high status also wore gold ornaments on ceremonial robes or belts, to emphasize their power and position. The gold ornaments worn by the Duke of Rui and featured in this exhibition can testify to the awe-inspiring skill and delicacy of gold craftsmanship in Western Zhou.
Jade and stone artifacts were produced along similar principles of cutting, hollowing, sanding, and polishing. The primary tools used were blades, string tools, cutting wheels, and solid or hollow drills. Because the hardness of common metal tools was inadequate, mineral abrasives (jade sand) were used for sanding and polishing.
Western Zhou jade artifacts were mostly in the form of strung ornaments designed to highlight the wearer's noble status. Designs were mostly plate-shaped, with curved lines to create a flowing effect. Early styles continued the Shang tradition of solemnity and gravity; but by the middle Western Zhou dynasty, grandness and exquisiteness in design became the preferred style. From the late Western Zhou dynasty to the early Spring and Autumn period, designs became more simplistic, and the overall artistic style was one of unpretentious elegance.
Located in the eastern part of Shaanxi province and separated from Shanxi Province by the Yellow River, Hancheng Liangdaicun was a flourishing political, economical, and cultural center of the Western Zhou. The burial grounds of the Rui nobles were also located here; more than 1,300 tombs spanning the Western Zhou era to the Spring and Autumn period. The Grand Tomb of the Duke of Rui (M27) is without doubt the finest of them all. This exhibition has re-created the inner sarcophagus of M27, explaining the functions and purposes of the various jade and gold artifacts according to the locations at which they were unearthed. This arrangement explores the reasons behind the presence of jade artifacts from different eras and styles.
Through inheritance, gift-giving, barter, commerce, and plunder, the Zhou acquired jade from many different eras and places. Some ancient jade pieces became part of the collections of the Zhou nobles, and some took on new purposes that suited their shape or design. The rest continued to serve the original purposes for which they were produced.
During the middle Western Zhou, early jade objects were often modified to suit new purposes. The phenomenon became more widespread from the late Western Zhou dynasty to the early Spring and Autumn period, and may have been the result of a lack of raw material, or could be due to a change of taste from the old designs. New concepts and ideology may also have played a role.