Written by Juliette Qi
It’s widely acknowledged that the hardness of the jade is remarkable. It has greater resistance than steel and has been used by many ancient civilizations in the production of axes, knives and weapons. Besides its practical uses, jade also became a symbolic stone used in ornaments and other religious objects.
The History of Jade in China
As early as 3000 BC, jade was known in China as “yu”, the “royal jewel”. In the long history of the art and culture of the Chinese empire, jade has always had a special symbolic meaning, comparable to that of gold and diamonds in the West. Jade was a special spiritual stone, used not only for precious decorative objects, but also as material for the funeral furniture of the imperial family. It is considered as a link between the physical and spiritual world, and it is the only material that encompasses both the qualities of yin and yang, of Heaven and Earth, which earns it the nickname “Stone of Heaven”. In ancient times, jade seemed also mysterious to the Chinese and that is why jade articles were common for sacrificial rites, often later buried with the dead. To preserve his body, Liu Sheng, the king of Zhongshan (113 BC) was buried in a suit consisting of 2,498 pieces of jade, sewn together with gold threads.
The history of jade is as old as Chinese civilization. Archaeologists have found jade objects dating back to the early Neolithic period (around 5000 BC), from the Hemudu Culture in Zhejiang Province, and the middle and late Neolithic period, from the Hongshan Culture along Lao River, the Longshan Culture along the Yellow River, and the Liangzhu Culture in the Tai Lake area.
Jade can be cut and polished, turned into tools, ornaments, utensils and many other objects. There are several ancient musical instruments made from jade, such as the jade flute, the Yuxiao (a vertical flute) and the jade chime.
The Symbolism of Chinese Jade
The Chinese love jade not only because of its beauty, but especially because of its significance and the human virtues it represents. According to Confucius (551-479 BC), “there are 11 De (virtues) in the jade. ”
The sages have compared jade to human virtues. For them, its polished and brilliant surface represents absolute purity; its perfect compactness and extreme hardness ensure intelligence; its angles, which do not cut well and seem sharp, represent justice; the pure and prolonged sound which it makes as soon as it is struck represents the music. Its color represents fidelity; its interior defects, always revealing themselves by transparency, evoke sincerity; its iridescent brilliance represents the sky; its admirable substance, born from the mountain or the water, represents the earth. Used alone without ornament, it represents chastity. The price the whole world attaches to it represents truth. To illustrate these comparisons, there’s a saying that goes “When I think of a wise man, I find his merits seem to be like jade.”
Even today, this stone is considered as a symbol of goodness, beauty and preciousness. It embodies the Confucian virtues of wisdom, justice, compassion, modesty and courage. In conclusion, jade symbolizes beauty, nobility, perfection, constancy, power, and immortality in Chinese culture, past and present.
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