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Chinese Jade

Chinese jade culture
The history of jade is as long as the Chinese civilization. Chinese began to know and use jade in the early Neolithic period (about 5000 BC) according to archeologists and archeological findings, represented by the Hemudu culture in Zhejian Province, and from the middle and late Neolithic period, represented by the Hongshan culture along the Lao River, the Longshan culture along the Yellow River, and the Liangzhu culture in the Tai Lake region. Many jade wares dating back to 4,000 to 6,000 years ago have been excavated in different places. It moved from the use of decoration on to the others such as the rites of worship and burial. Jade was thought to preserve the body after death and can be found in emperors' tombs from thousands of years ago. One tomb contained an entire suit made out of jade, to assure the physical immortality of its owner. Although other materials like gold, silver and bronze were also used, none of these have ever exceeded the spiritual position that jade has acquired in peoples' minds - it is associated with merit, morality, grace and dignity. Until the Shang and Zhou dynasties, jade wares had been developed into tools, weapons, daily utensils, accessories and ritual utensils. As commodity exchange boomed, jade was bestowed with currency function. For thousands of years till now, jade was and is a symbol of love and virtue as well as a status symbol.

In the ancient time, jade was worn by kings and nobles and after death placed with them in the tomb. As a result, the material became associated with royalty and high status. It also came to be regarded as powerful in death, protecting the body from decay. In later times these magical properties were perhaps less explicitly recognised, jade being valued more for its use in exquisite ornaments and vessels, and for its links with antiquity. The imperial seal of the Qin dynasty, the first feudal society in China, was made of jade. The seal was later hunt by seigneurs to prove they were the real Heavenly Sons. Furthermore, more noble attributes were given to jade, making it a standard of morality.

Jade stands for beauty, grace and purity as well. In Chinese, it is pronounced as 'Yu', and most words related to moral include this word such as 'Unpolished jade never shines,' indicating that one cannot be a useful person if he is not educated. Jade also implied honor and conviction. Jade has also been used in many Chinese idioms or phrases to denote beautiful things or people, such as Yu Jie Bing Qing (pure and noble), Ting Ting Yu Li (fair, slim and graceful) and Yu Nv (beautiful girl). Many girls in ancient times were also named with jade. One of the Four Beauties in Chinese history, Yang Yuhuan, the beloved concubine of Emperor Xuanzong in the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), was their representative. Yang is her surname and her given name Yuhuan means simply 'jade ring'.
Chinese people believed jade had supernatural power. Using jade wares and jade ornaments could resist invasion of evil influence and avoid evil apparitions and secure safety and auspiciousness. The witchcraft soon applied jade as percussion instrument since it sounded pleasing to the ear and traveled far. After people knew musical scales, jade became musical instrument. People wore and decorated rooms to indicate loyalty, elegance, beauty, and eternity. The most popular patterns were: peach (longevity), mandarin duck (love), deer (high official ranks), bat (blessing), fish (affluence), double phoenixes (thriving), bottle (safety), lotus (holiness), bamboo (lofty conduct), and fan (benevolence), etc.

Jade was believed capable of standing for Heaven, the Earth, the east, the west, the south and the north and emperors. It can be messenger between Heaven and mankind. In the ancient times, Yu, Chinese character meaning jade, was the same with Wang (king). The three horizontal strokes stringed by a central vertical stroke represent Heaven, the Earth and mankind respectively. Hence yu, is always used in Chinese to call something precious and jade had always been treasured in China as the royal gemstone.


Jade with Chinese religion
Sounding strange, some people believed, however, that jade was edible and could keep one physically immortal. Most of them are Taoists. These precious stones played significant role in the development and spread of religions in China. Since belief the ancients bestowed with jade is coincident with religion in many aspects, jade serves religion. In the Buddhism, the PureLand is composed of gold, silver, agate, coral, amber and gray jade. Thus Chinese Buddhism emphasizes collecting and using various precious stones. In FamenTemple in Shaanxi province, near Xian, among the four Buddhist Relics discovered, one was placed in tailor made jade coffin. The Buddhas and Buddhism musical instruments in the PotalaPalace and Ta'er Lamasery are mostly decorated with lazuli, turquoise, agate, gray jade and white jade. Until the Tang dynasty, Buddhism reached its peak, and jade carvings concerning with Buddhism, such as Amitabha, Kwan-yin, prayer beads, avalanched as amulets to protect people from disease and evil and agents to carry their emotion, expectation and belief to Buddha. Functions are the same in Taoism.

11 Virtue of Jade
The Chinese love jade because of not only its beauty, but also more importantly its culture, meaning and humanity, as Confucius (551 BC - 479 BC) said there are 11 De (virtue) in jade. The following is the translation (don't know the translator):
'The wise have likened jade to virtue. For them, its polish and brilliancy represent the whole of purity; its perfect compactness and extreme hardness represent the sureness of intelligence; its angles, which do not cut, although they seem sharp, represent justice; the pure and prolonged sound, which it gives forth when one strikes it, represents music. Its color represents loyalty; its interior flaws, always showing themselves through the transparency, call to mind sincerity; its iridescent brightness represents heaven; its admirable substance, born of mountain and of water, represents the earth. Used alone without ornamentation it represents chastity. The price that the entire world attaches to it represents the truth. To support these comparisons, the Book of Verse says: "When I think of a wise man, his merits appear to be like jade."'
Jade has always been the material most highly prized by the Chinese, above silver and gold, just as the Chinese saying goes "Gold has a value; jade is invaluable." 'Soft, smooth and glossy, it appeared to them like benevolence; fine, compact and strong - like intelligence' Attributed to Confucius (about 551-479 BC)

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