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
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
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
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. chalcedony and appear in numerous
forms. Agate contains striae of assorted colors which form in the presence of coloring
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.
substances whose minute crystals are visible only under high magnification, and grouped
under the name
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.