Chinese jade

Chinese jade

      any of the carved-jade objects produced in China from the Neolithic Period (c. 3000–2000 BC) onward. The Chinese have historically regarded carved-jade objects as intrinsically valuable, and they metaphorically equated jade with human virtues because of its hardness, durability, and beauty.

      Jade has been used in virtually all periods of Chinese history and generally accords with the style of decorative art characteristic of each period. Thus, the earliest jades, from the Neolithic Period, are quite simple and unornamented—although some jade articles with carved imagery from this period have been unearthed. Jades of the Shang (18th–12th century BC), Zhou (1111–255 BC), and Han (206 BC–AD 220) dynasties were increasingly embellished with animal and other decorative motifs characteristic of those times, some of which may suggest witchcraft or totems to avert evil. In later periods, artisans carved ancient jade forms, shapes derived from bronze vessels, and motifs from painting, often as a way to demonstrate their own technical facility.

      Jade objects of early ages (Neolithic through Zhou) were used for various purposes. Some were used as small decorative and functional ornaments, such as beads, pendants, and belt hooks. They were also carved as weapons and related equipment meant more for ceremonial than for practical use. Sometimes they were created as independent sculptural forms (especially of real and mythological animals) and were perhaps used as talismans. Jade was used to make a large variety of small objects of probably emblematic value, including the huan (a braceletlike disk with a large hole), the huang (a flat, half-ring pendant), the han (ornaments, often carved in the shape of a cicada, to be placed in the mouth of the dead), and the zhang and gui (flat, bladelike tablets that served as official insignia of the owner). Many examples also exist of larger objects—such as the cong (a hollow cylinder or truncated cone) and the bi (a flat disk with a hole in its centre)—with shapes that have invited much speculation as to value and function.

      Written records about ancient jade objects first appeared in the Song period. Traditions of collecting, appraising, and studying jade objects have been popular in China for centuries.

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Universalium. 2010.

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