Jade is loosely understood in China as the collective name
for most precious stones, and jade carving in this sense constitutes an important part of Chinese arts and crafts. The love of jade ware, according to Dr. Joseph Needham, the noted British naturalist, has been one of the cultural features of China. Crude jade tools have been found among the archaeological finds dating back to the New Stone Age. There is, however, no evidence to indicate that neolithic people attached a great value to jade
ware; they chose jade only because it was hard and good for making tools and fighting weapons. As time went on, people came gradually to appreciate the beauty of the stone, which after carving and polishing might be turned into things not only useful but also nice to look at.|
In the historical epoch during which the slave society was
replaced by the feudal society, jade ware became established as
objects of pure decoration. Among the funerary objects unearthed from tombs of that long period are many jade articles
used as personal ornaments or ceremonial vessels. The jade exhibits one sees today in museums of the country normally comprise vases, incense-burners, tripods, cups and wine vessels of
Large-sized jade articles began to appear in the middle of
Chinese feudalism. There is today in the Round City of the Beihai Park a large jade jar the size of a small bathtub. It was used
as a wine container by the Yuan Emperor Kublai Khan when he
feted his followers. The 3.5-ton jar may hold as much as 3,000 litres of wine. It has a circumference of 493cm and measures 70cm high and 55cm deep in the middle. The elliptic jar is wellshaped and engraved all round with clouds, waves, dragons and
sea horses. It is the oldest jade object of a large size kept intact in the country.
Another large piece worth mentioning is a jade sculpture
dating from the reign of Qianlong in the 18th century. Entitled
"Jade Mountain Showing the Great Yu Taming the Flood", it
was sculpted after a Song Dynasty painting of a similar title.
The masterpiece, standing 2.4 metres high and about 1 metre
wide, depicts in vivid detail how the Great Yu, a heroic representative of the ancient working people, fought the Great
Flood. According to historical records, the uncut jade stone,
weighing more than 5 tons, was discovered in Hotan area, Xinjiang, took three years to be transported over the distance of
4,000 kilometres to Beijing, and some more years to be carved
and polished into the national treasure that it is.
"There is a price for gold but no price for jade", says a Chinese proverb. Jade ware is often described as "worth a string of
towns". An ancient story tells how King Zhao of Qin once offered 15 towns in exchange for the famous Ho's round jade.
How is it thai jade is so valuable?
First, its value lies in its scarcity. Precious stones are
formed over long geological epochs and are hard to get, especially green jade, white jade and agate. Ancient people on a treasure hunt had to trek on the back of yaks in mountainous regions to get at the unhewn rocks containing the gems, exposed or half exposed, by the stamping of the animal's hoofs. Sometimes, precious stones were washed down by mountain torrents and were got hold of midway by men with the eye and luck. In any event, exposed stones grew scarce and people began to bore through the mountains to mine for precious stones, making them even more difficult to get.
Secondly, the value of jade lies in its hardness. Precious
stones are divided by their hardness into two major groups:
jadeites and nephrites. Jadeites are the ones with a solid texture
and a hardness of degree 6 or above (on the basis of 10 for diamond). The more valuable varieties, such as green jade, may
be as hard as degree 8 or 9. Jadeites are invulnerable to steel
cutting tools made of carbonrundum or diamond power. Objects
made of this hard jade are smooth, lustrous, glittering and
translucent, and their grains are no longer visible to the naked
Nephrites, on the other hand, being below degree 6 in
hardness, can generally be incised and carved by burins. Their
commercial values are much lower than jadeites.
Thirdly, the value of precious stones lies in their natural
colour and hue. Some are as white as snow, others are brightly
red, and still others alluringly green. Diamond, emerald,
saphire and other gemstones can be processed into personal ornaments like rings and earrings whose colour will remain brilliant all the time. Some stones carry an array of colours which a master artisan can use to good effect. Even flaws in the stone can be turned into "beauty spots", for instance, an insect on a flower or a small squirrel on a tree, adding life and attraction to the entire piece of work.
Today there are jade workshops or factories in all major
cities. Work which used to be done purely by hand has been
partially mechanized. Although some operations have become
faster with the use of simple machines, yet jade carving remains
basically a handicraft art. And as raw materials are getting
more and more scarce, the prices of jade ware will always be on
the upward trend.