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                    Chinese Jade Culture

The word "jade" communicates a sense of mystery. In Chinese, "jade" (yu) refers to a fine, beautiful stone with a warm color and rich luster, that is skillfully and delicately carved. In Chinese culture, jade symbolizes nobility, perfection, constancy, and immortality. For millennia, jade has been an intimate part of the lives of Chinese of all ranks and classes. It is viewed as the most valuable of all precious stones.

Many countries have jadeware culture, but none of them has as long a history as China has. China's jadeware culture has undergone a long process of development from the New Stone Age 10,000 years ago to the present.

Would you like to know some ancient Chinese culture about Jade?

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 various descriptions.

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 eye.

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.

Firstly, the Attributes of Jade

Jade had been bless by nature with many fine attributes – jade is solid in texture, beautiful in color, comfortable to the touch and produces a pleasant sound when tapped. These qualities matched the ethical standards and codes of conduct of the ancient people and were hence personified. Confucius concluded that jade had eleven virtues, such as benevolence (being smooth and lustrous), fidelity (the feel never irritates the skin), polite etiquette (there was an order of wearing), and sincerity (a flaw in jade never hides itself), and etc. So the Confucian culture advocated that a gentleman should define his manners and conduct in accordance with the virtues of jade.

Secondly, the Myths about Jade

Jade has not only been idealized and personified, but also mythologized, particularly in ancient times when jade vessels were dedicated to rituals and divination purposes. The ancients believed that jade was formed where phoenixes had landed and where there were accumulations of the essence of yang. Proper dredging was conducted during moon-lit nights by naked women. Can Guess why by naked women? Because it was believed that only by using yin (women were philosophized as yin) to absorb yang could purify jade, the essence of the earth and heaven, be obtained. This belief influenced the Chinese for many centuries. Tian Gong Kai Fu (Exploitation of the Works of Nature), a description of production techniques published in 1637 during the late Ming Dynasty, recorded that naked local young women dredged up jade from rivers during moon-lit nights. The book explained that “by attracting the vital energy of Yang, pure jade would easily be obtained”.

The ancient Chinese also believed that jade staved off corrosion and evil sprits. Many jade burial objects have been found in tombs that date as far back as the Zhou Dynasty. The Zhou people began using flat pieces of jade to cover corpses. In the Han Dynasty this custom developed even further. Flat and square jade pieces were sewn by gold thread into burial suits for rulers so that their physical being would never vanish. In 1971, the tombs of Prince Jing of the Western Han Dynasty and his wife were excavated, yielding two jade suits.

Myths about jade faded with the passage of time. However, many people today still believe that wearing jade is good for one’s health. Face massagers made of jade have been used since the Qing Dynasty. There are also jade pillows and seat mats. Modern tests show that jade contains trace elements needed by the human body.

The ancient Chinese valued jade very much, as evidenced by the extensive use of the material. Even during the times of Yellow Emperor in about 4600 B.C., the use of jade was regulated. Articles of state power, such as rulers’ seals and tokens, and vessels for important rituals and ceremonies had to be made of jade. Jade was a symbol of social status, and nobles liked to wear jade ornaments.

Thirdly, the Value of Jade

The earth’s crust contains over 1,000 kinds of stones, but only about a dozen belong to the jade family. Limited by undeveloped quarrying skills, ancient jade output was very small; therefore, the price of ancient jade was high. Some believe that the most valuable ancient jade ware is a flat, round jade ornament called He Shi Bi from the Spring and Autumn Period. It is well known and worshipped not only for its high quality jade, but also for the story behind it. Legend has it that a man named He from the State of Chu had obtained a piece of raw jade stone and presented it to King Li. The ruler was insulted and had the man’s left foot amputated. When King Wu succeeded the throne, the man presented the jade to the throne again. The same thing happened and this time he lost his right foot. When King Wen was enthroned, the man went back to the mountain with the jade, full of sorrow. He cried all day long holding his jade stone, because the kings mistook him and took his jade as the fake one. After he ran up his tears, he cried out blood from his eyes. When the blood fell down on the jade stone, the real pure jade exposed out. Later King Wen sent someone to tell the man that his jade was precious and was named after him He Shi Bi – He Family’s Jade. Han Dynasty historian Sima Qian wrote in his book, the Records of a Historian, that the jade was later obtained by the State of Zhou. When the ruler of Qin heard about it, he offered to trade 15 of his walled towns for the jade. The ruler of Zhou then sent a minister to take the jade over to Qin, which was stronger than the State of Zhou. When the minister found that the ruler of Qin was not really serious about the trade, he managed to take the jade back to Zhou. The idea that someone may have been willing to give away 15 towns in exchange for a piece of jade reflects the great value the Chinese place on jade.

An old Chinese saying, “gold has a price, but jade does not,” is not exactly true, not technically, anyway. In traditional Chinese literature, gold and jade are often mentioned together and are seen as symbols of wealth. Even today the price of high quality jade is no less than a piece of gold of the same weight.

For a long time, wearing jade ornaments was in vogue. Ornaments were either a piece of jade or comprised of as many as nine pieces strung together. People used the jade ornaments to show their social status. The ornaments were carved with auspicious animals and words that wished good luck and happy lives. Wearing jade ornaments was the most popular in the Qing dynasty. Those who did not wear them were considered improperly dressed, and houses without jade decoration were not considered homes. Even for poor and ordinary people, they would like to have several pieces of jade pendants or bracelets for their sons or daughters, which could be passed down to children and grandchildren, as a kind of precious family jade. For women, jade bracelets took most space of their jewelry boxes. Jade bracelets received as engagement and wedding gifts were considered as precious as today’s diamond wedding rings. We Chinese described a good marriage as a “gold and jade marriage”.

Jade and Jade carving

When we talk of jade, we can start from Chinese stone culture. Stones hold a special place in Chinese culture. As we can see, in many scenic spots of China, you can find there are various shapes of artificial rockeries, they decorate the scenic spots. Chinese stone culture started with people using stones, owning them, then appreciating and becoming connoisseurs. In the stone Ages, some 5000years ago, for a long time, people found many materials, of all these materials, stone was the hardest, then they used stone to make stone tools and weapons.

After using stone tools and weapons for many years, people gradually classified the stone into different types. According to their “beauty” , Hardness, mellow color, soft feel and pleasant sound . at last, they are surprised to find that , all these can be found in one type of stone, that is jade! In the ages to follow, people indeed judged the degree of beauty of all kinds of stone by jade.

There is a Chinese saying: “Jade is no more than a stone before it is chiseled, ground to an ornament” Jade carving is a well known special local product, it is not only the high-tech skills on carving , exquisite on appearance, but also inject many Chinese traditional cultures into it.

Maybe you have learned some about Chinese characters, in which, A character with two across and one upright is called Tu, meaning earth, which symbolizes our living area. A character with another across above Tu is called Wang, means king, representing the ruler of the earth. A character with a dot added to Wang, we call it Yu, which refers to jade, symbolizing the treasure of the king. A character with a square around Yu means country in Chinese, reflecting that a kingdom must have jade inside. Without it, the kingdom is just left a square, meaning nothing. That is why there is a large jade carving placed in front of the Hall of Mental Cultivation in the Forbidden City.

It has a long story for the usage of jade as a symbol of a king’s power. About 5000 years ago in primitive society, there were a lot of nomadic tribes in China. Each leader of these tribes was required to have three jade wares respectively. They were jade Bi, jade Cong and jade Yue. Jade Bi round in shape means the heaven, representing the king’s power from the heaven. Jade Cong square in shape means the earth, a symbol to govern the tribe. Jade Yue is like an ax in shape, meaning military power. Without this piece of jade ware, the leader had no right to control the army. When a new leader was chosen, he must have these 3 jade wares made as to gain supports from common people. Today, many ruins of primitive tribes have been discovered in China. The spots where the archeologists found these 3 jade wares were considered the leaders’ residencies of the tribes at that time.

As the capital of Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, Beijing was a place where emperors, nobles, officials, rich men and intellectuals all lived. As a result, many handicraft industries congregated here in this city. On account of the jade’s high status in Chinese culture, it was considered upper classed and well educated to have jade carvings placed in houses or to wear gird jade wares. The best example is that in the Forbidden City you can see many jade carvings placed in emperor’s bedrooms and offices. Therefore Beijing’s jade carving industry has been very flourish up to today. It is a symbol of wealth and high social statue for people to wear or have jade wares. Jade has been cherished by Chinese as a symbol of many virtues. It’s hardness suggests firmness and loyalty, and it’s luster projects purity and beauty. In ancient times, people compared human virtues to pure jade on the one hand and admired its beauty and fine textures on the other.

In ancient China, people up from the emperor down to common people all concerned about a science. That was Fengshui, the wind and water in English. The science mainly expounds the relationships between locations and human fortune. Even in nowadays, in China or foreign countries’ China town, when Chinese people want to build some new constructions, normally they will invite a geomancer to research the place. If it is good, they’ll start constructing; if not, they will do something to ward off so-called evil spirits, such as placing a small mirror above the door or a Buddha statue facing to the door or a jade carving on some special position.

In ancient times, jade was also used in sorcery and ancestral sacrifice because of its fine qualities. Gradually ,people began to believe that jade had devine and supernatural forces. We have visited the Ming Tombs, we knew that “being buried with jade on a gold well .”from that, we can see the importance of jade and people also believed that jade would make people’s souls immortal and preserve corpses.

Traditionally, the jade can be divided into two kinds, which are the jadeite and nephrite. The jadeite is above 7.5 degrees in rigidity while the nephrite below 7.5. In China, the jadeite is called the Chinese hard jade while the nephrite is the Chinese soft jade. The jadeite, with 3 rankings: A, B, C, is mainly found in Chinese Yunnan province and Burma. And each ranking of the price is basically stable. In China there are many nephrite mines, which are mainly located at Xinjiang, Liaoning and Henan provinces. The nephrite has its unique historical value in China. Since the primitive society about 4000 years ago, we have used it for more than 6000 years. And it has been greatly popular among Chinese emperors. The color of the nephrite is various such as green, blue, yellow, orange, red and white etc, among which the white jade is the most valuable and is called the diamond of the jade. And its value even surpasses that of the A ranking jadeite. Because the nephrite is soft, we have made the jade carving with the nephrite since the ancient time. With the development of the history, the jade carving industry came into being. Because the emperors and rich men were all fond of the art of jade carving, the industry of jade carving developed rapidly with the gradually elaborate skills and reached its peak in 16th century Ming and Qing dynasties when many jade carving artists appeared, like Lu Zigang, who was a jade sculptor in the Ming dynasty as famous as the artist Michelangelo in Europe during the Renaissance. The jade carvings with his names were usually tributes directly presented to emperors. Today, a jade carving bearing his name values more than 1 million US dollars. That’s why the old jade carving is the most expensive in Beijing antique market.

From all these , we can see ,the Chinese people’s love and use of jade date back to ancient times, flowers, birds, animals, vases, incense burners and human figures are the usual subjects of jade carving. The patterns of China's jadeware have rich connotations showing strong auspicious colours. Bats and gourds were often used as a basis for more than 100 patterns because the Chinese words (bat and gord) sound like "good fortune" in the Chinese language. When a bat was carved on an ancient coin with a hole, it meant fortune was at hand. When many bats were put with birthday peaches, they referred to fortune and longevity. If bats were mixed with sika, birthday peaches and magpies, they also had a good meaning. All these reflected the ancient Chinese people's yearning for a happy life and revealed the essence of China's traditional culture.

In addition to carvings, the jade is also used in our living. For example, we knit many small jade pieces together to make jade pillows. You’ll feel very cool to sleep on it in summers. We also polish the jade to make jade sticks, which can be used to polish faces. And it is believed that the faces will get more and more smooth in this way. In China, that drinking wine with jade cups has 2000 years’ history. In this way, the wine is believed to taste better and cooler. In nobles’ families a jade screen is often placed. On one hand it can block the view of visitors, and the other hand it can make good effect of sun lighting.

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.

Victory medals of Beijing Olympic Games unveiled

Reverse side of the Medal and the Ribbon
On the occasion of the 500-day countdown to the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games, the Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG) unveiled the Games' medals.

BOCOG Executive Vice-President and chairman of the evaluation panel Jiang Xiaoyu attended the unveiling ceremony and delivered a speech at the Capital Museum on Tuesday.

The medals are designed with inspiration from "bi", China's ancient jade piece inscribed with dragon pattern. The medals, made of gold and jade, symbolize nobility and virtue and are embodiment of traditional Chinese values of ethics and honor.

The medals are 70mm in diameter and 6mm in thickness. On their obverse side, the medals adopt the standard design prescribed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) -- a drawing that represents the winged goddess of victory Nike and Panathinaikos Arena, while on their reverse side, the medals are inlaid with jade with the Beijing Games emblem engraved in the metal centerpiece.

Noble and elegant, the medals are a blending of traditional Chinese culture and the Olympism. It gives the winners of the Games great honor and acclamation as recognition of their achievement.

The IOC has strict stipulation on the Olympic medals' material, identification, weight, size and drawing. The medals for the champion and the runner-up are made of pure silver, and the champion's medal must be plated with gold weighing not less than six grams each. For the first time jade is used for the Olympic medals. The design not only meets the IOC requirements, but also expresses praise and honor that the Chinese people cherish for the Olympic Spirit and the Olympic athletes.

In his speech, Jiang Xiaoyu said the Beijing 2008 Games medals will be a major part of the Olympic legacy for China. The design of the medals is a result of hard work and enthusiasm of many people. The medals, he said, embody strong Chinese style and elegant art, and are a harmonious combination of the Chinese culture with the Olympism, making them a vehicle to spread the Olympic Spirit and the concepts of the Beijing Games, as well as to showcase Chinese culture and arts, and the high levels of design and technology.

Obverse side of the Medal and the Ribbon
The medal box, ribbon and certificate, which were released simultaneously, also embody aesthetic taste of traditional Chinese culture and reflect the distinct Chinese characteristics and style.
The medal box is made of a wooden lacquer box with traditional Chinese techniques. The box is rectangular in shape, with four slightly curving sides of its lid and base, a symbol of heaven and earth, which conveys the message of happiness and best wishes for the world. The ribbon is exquisitely designed with cloud pattern woven on the red strap, sending out joyful and festive atmosphere. The certificate is made of thin silk and rice paper, an integrated whole of traditional techniques and modern printing.

On January 11, 2006, BOCOG launched a global campaign to solicit design proposals for the medals of the 2008 Games whilst inviting eleven professional organizations, including China Banknote Printing and Minting Corporation, the Central Academy of Fine Arts, and Academy of Arts & Design of Tsinghua University, to the campaign. The campaign was sponsored by BHP Billiton, the diversified minerals and medals sponsor of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games.

Within three months, 265 entries were sent in from 25 provinces (municipalities, and autonomous regions) and Hong Kong Special Administration Region (SAR) of China, America, Australia, Russian and Germany.

BOCOG called in a panel of experts and academies in the fields of arts, sculpture and mintage, thereafter, for two round selections of the 179 valid entries, and had the medal proposal improved during the process.

BOCOG and IOC passed the final proposal on January 11, 2007 and February 8, 2007 respectively.  

Jade remains an eternal symbol of China's magnificent

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