The Importance of Jade Stone in Chinese Culture
Jade, known as 'yu' in China, is a gemstone that is used as both an ornament and as jewelry. There are two types of jade stone that exist. These are composed of different silicate minerals. The first type of jade stone is nephrite. The more iron that the nephrite contains, the greener in color it appears. The second type of jade stone is jadeite. It is similar in hardness to quartz. Nephrite, on the other hand, has a softer quality to it.
Nephrite comes in a creamy white form and several shades of green, while jadeite boasts a wider range of color variations. Nephrite deposits have been sourced from the Swiss Alps, China, Guatemala, Russia and New Zealand. These colors include blue, emerald green, pink and lavender mauve. Jadeite is also rarer than nephrite. At present, jadeite has only been found in 12 locations across the world. Translucent emerald green jadeite remains the most sought after variation of jade stone.
Many jade stone buyers today utilize gemological laboratories obtain Jade Certificates, which include a general description of the jade piece and a photo. A gemological laboratory can provide jade grading, which weights various factors including color, shape, dimension, cut and clarity. Stones can also be deemed to be "natural" or having been treated by a color dye to enhance its appearance.
Aside from ornamental and jewelry purposes, jade stone was historically used to decorate axe heads, knives, and other weapons and was preferred because of its toughness. Either quartz or garnet sand is used to work with the gemstone and ground stone or jade can be used to polish it.
Nephrite jade was historically used in pre-1800 China. The Neolithic era in particular saw the use of jade for utilitarian and ceremonial purposes. Back then, jade stone was sourced from deposits in the areas of Inner Mongolia, the Liaoning province and the Ningshao area of the Yangtze River Delta. These deposits are now depleted. The importance of jade stone in Chinese history was very evident, as jade had been discovered in the tombs of many Shang kings. Jade stone was also used generously to decorate indoor areas and burial suites. In general, the Chinese considered jade stone to be the "imperial gem".
White jade stone was also used to make yearly tribute payments to the Chinese Imperial court. Jade stone was a popular material of choice for skilled artisans and a higher value was placed on it in comparison to gold or silver. The presence of jade stone became prominent in ordinary objects such as rests for calligraphy brushes and mouthpieces for opium pipes. Jade stone was used in opium pipes because the Chinese believed that it held the power to increase the lifespan of the person smoking the pipe.
Jadeite and its attractive array of colors were brought in from Burma to China in the 19th century. The vivid green shade of jade stone is known as Kingfisher or Feicui jade. It soon matched the popularity of nephrite jade and was highly regarded among the nouveau riche of the Qing Dynasty. However, scholars still favored nephrite and considered it as a symbol of a nobleman.
In the same manner that gold and diamonds are highly treasured in the West, the Chinese regard jade stone with a special significance. Jade stone was used in fashioning expensive and sophisticated objects and cult figures. It was also used extensively in furnishings for prominent members of the imperial family. Today rare, high-grade jade stone can command thousands of dollars per ounce.
The importance of Jade stone in Chinese culture is reflected in its status as a symbol of goodness, preciousness and beauty. To the Chinese, jade stone is also the embodiment of the Confucian virtues of courage, wisdom, modesty, justice and compassion. The polish and brilliance of jade stone is considered by the Chinese to be representative of purity while its compactness and hardness reflect intelligence. Justice is represented by its angles and the sound produced by it when it is struck is a symbol of music. The color of jade stone depicts loyalty while its flaws reflect sincerity. The Chinese also value jade stone because of its brightness; representing heaven, while its substance is representative of the earth.
Jade stone is collected by many Chinese people as an antique. Many jewelers today have also come up with modern and avant-garde designs for the incorporation of jade stone into jewelry. For those who purchase either the raw stone or jewelry, obtaining a certification can be a wise investment, especially since the quality and value of the jade can vary so significantly. In China, EGL Asia is the only gemological laboratory that offers a recognized jade grading certification.
There is a Chinese saying that goes, "Gold has a value; jade is invaluable". The significance of jade stone to Chinese culture is evident, not only historically, but at present as well. The Chinese term for jade, "yu" is often used in family names as well as in terms that describe people or things that are beautiful.