國立故宮博物院 National Palace Museum
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Exhibit Guide

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Exhibit Guide
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Among the ancient cultures around the world, the great Yangtze and Yellow Rivers of East Asia gave birth to the longest and one of the world's most vital civilizations, that of China. Chinese forebears accumulated knowledge about husbandry, farming, stone grinding, and pottery making. Five or six thousand years ago, following the gradual stratification of society, a unique ritual system based on shamanism also developed. Rituals made it possible to pray to the gods for good fortune and to maintain a system of human relations. The use of concrete ritual objects is a manifestation of these thoughts and ideals.

Although areas with jade carving appeared in several places on the Eurasian continent toward the end of the Paleolithic era, the jade cultures in East Asia during the late Neolithic were exceptional. In fact, the original meaning of the character for "ritual (li)" in Chinese was "to serve the gods with jade". Archaeological evidence shows that, compared to pottery, which reflects the natural living environment or prevailing customs, pre-historic Chinese jade objects display more distinct regional styles. They also fit the geographic distribution of three major clans of tribes mentioned in ancient documents, which is evidence that jade objects are indeed representatives of China's spiritual past.

Myths about the birth of humanity from birds permeated the coastal areas along eastern China. As a result, religious art from this region is richer in concrete and abstract animal patterns. Most of the jade carvings from inland western regions of China tend to be simpler, but the rich resources of the loess highlands yielded pottery painted with a wide palette of colors. Shapes of and patterns on both jade and pottery objects as well as altars and tombs for sacrificing to the ancestral gods were round and square to symbolize the ancestral view of the universe as being an all-encompassing circular heavens and the square four corners of the earth.

Already at the dawn of Chinese civilization, cultural practices such as worship and an appreciation of jade had already matured. Through the integration of clans, diverse cultures gradually came to produce a similar common form. Passed down through the ages, jades in the form of ritual objects, as opposed to pottery, bronzes, lacquer wares, and porcelains, even more so came to serve as a medium for the notion of ritual.

 
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