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Jade: The Stone of Immortality and Beauty - August 2002 Newsletter

 

For many people, jade is associated with gems, the color green, and China; it symbolizes good luck and protection. While it is true that jade is popularly used in jewelry, is commonly seen in shades of green, and is highly regarded in Chinese culture, jade has a long history that illustrates its significance other than its beauty and fortune.

The word jade, in English, comes from the Spanish term pietra de hijada, meaning kidney stone, as it was used as an amulet and cure for kidney ailments. The Chinese, however, have been referring to jade as yu for thousands of years and have had more uses for it besides as an amulet. Jade artifacts in China have been found dating back to the Neolithic or New Stone Age period, around 5500 B.C. Like the Aztecs and Mayans of Mexico, and the Maoris of New Zealand, the Chinese have used jade to make blades, knives, and axes. This can be attributed to jade's trait of being extremely tough and difficult to break.

Jade was probably most significant in terms of China's dynasties and royalties. As jade comes in many shades and colors other than green, the Chinese believed that only the "Son of Heaven," customarily the emperor, was the only one who could use pure white jade, while lower ranking persons were restricted to the use of mixed-color jades. The imperial court also arranged and observed jade pieces to determine whether the new year held optimism or not. Additionally, the emperor alone could use jade as writing tablets for various notes. Consequently, jade was also implemented to mark and distinguish ranks in the form of tablets, or kuei. Other writing utensils were also made of jade including brush sets, paperweights, and seals.

More interestingly, jade was commonly used for religious purposes including homage to deities and burial ceremonies. In presenting homage to the six cosmical gods, the master of religious ceremonies, or Ta tsung po, uses several different jade pieces and colors. In the Chou li, one of the three great Rituals of an ancient religion incorporating jade, it is said the Ta tsung po "with the round tablet of bluish (or greenish) color, does homage to Heaven. With the yellow jade tube, he does homage to Earth. With the green tablet, he renders homage to the region of the East. With the red tablet, he renders homage to the region of the South. With the white tablet in the shape of a tiger, he renders homage to the region of the West. With the black jade piece of semicircular shape, he renders homage to the region of the North."

The six jade pieces mentioned are significant on their own, as they represent the formations of deities and were customarily used together. In the casket of the body to be buried, each of the six jade objects were placed at specific places next to the body. Jade carved cicadas, an insect usually found in East Asia, were commonly placed on the deceased person's tongue as they represented rebirth. The jade pieces were also found in elaborate girdle-pendants which were placed over the corpse as well. These girdle-pendants consisted of each of the six jade pieces connected by ornamented chains. The tablets kuei and chang, the ring or disk pi, the tube t'sung, the tiger-shaped piece hu, and the half-circle huang, make up the six jade pieces and are correlated with the six cosmical gods.

Jade was also observed as a sonorous stone, one that could reflect sound, and was fashioned into bells and gongs. Jade chimes were also produced, referred to as k'ing, or musical stone. These chimes were favored as birthday presents or congratulatory and wedding gifts as the phrase associated with them, ki k'ing "to strike the musical stone," was also interpreted as "may blessings attend you" or good luck and best wishes."



As well as weaponry, religious and sentimental uses, jade has been formed into many other uses such as coins, head pieces, clasps, buckles, cups, bowls, and vases. Along with attaining immortality, jade is said to have been used as an astronomical instrument. In the more modern dynasties, within the fourteenth century and on, jade-work became of artistic value and was more self-conscious and referential. In addition to representing nature, as with the commonly found carvings of different animals, the jade products also represented moral meanings or verbal puns. Jade sculptures also alluded to various works of literature, one of the most familiar being that of the monkey and peaches, symbolizing immortality and long life.

With the introduction of Buddhism to China and Japan, many of its teachings and images of deities were carved onto jade. As jade carvings became a more common sight, its aesthetic appeal increased along with its use for display and personal purposes. In addition to the values attributed to jade from ancient times, it has come to symbolize felicity, fame, dignity, prosperity, good luck, good health, and protection. This "stone of heaven," as it is also referred to, is believed to ward off evil spirits while protecting one's own body and spirit. With such meanings, it is no wonder that jade is given as a gift and is a common household item in East Asia.

While it has been customary for some East Asian parents to give jade necklaces or other jewelry to their children, in accordance to the Chinese zodiac calendar or just as a token of their love and care, it is very apparent that modern youth wear jade for its beauty and value of being the most precious of all stones and gems in East Asia. Of course it isn't just the youth who incorporate jade into style, for people of all ages and ethnicities seem to adore the stone just as much. Today there are thousands of jade jewelry and sculpture shops offering necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings, every and any kind of figure or form sculpted in jade.

With all the powers it has and the beauty it shows, it is no wonder that jade is so popular and sold all over the world. This popularity, however, has brought about the selling of imitations and the misleading of buyers who are not familiar with all the jade types. While a jade expert is best to examine a potential jade purchase, there are several tips one can keep in mind before buying jade. Firstly, be aware of the type of jade a seller claims it to be:

· "Soochow Jade" is really Serpentine or Soapstone
· "Manchurian Jade" is Soapstone
· "Korean Jade" or "New Jade" is Serpentine
· "Indian Jade" is Aventurine Quartz
· "Imperial Mexican Jade" or "Mexican Jade" may be green-dyed calcite
· "Australian Jade" is Chrysoprase Quartz
· "American Jade" may be Californite
· "Amazon Jade" or "Colorado Jade" is Amazonite

Secondly, remember the "Three T's" for analyzing the quality of jade: tone, translucency and texture. The tone or color should be even and consistent, free of any spots or veins. If veins or cracks do appear and the color seems to be concentrated or more apparent in them, this might indicate that the stone has been dyed. The color should also be intense, "penetrating," and bright. The ideal jade's translucency should be semi-transparent in natural light, similar to that of honey. The texture may range from fine to coarse, with fine being the more desirous; the stone should also be cold to the touch.

Lastly, one should realize that jade is the common name given to two different minerals, jadeite and nephrite. Nephrite is less lustrous, not as bright in color, and comes in various shades of green. Jadeite has a glassy, water-like luster, comes in the more sought after brilliant green color, as well as red, pink, yellow, orange, blue, purple, black, brown, and white tones. The difference between the two stones also includes the areas in which each is found. Nephrite is typically found in China, Siberia, Turkestan, British Columbia, Alaska, California, Wyoming, Mexico, and New Zealand. Jadeite is predominantly found in Myanmar as well as Guatemala. Jadeite is the more scarce of the two, which adds to its value, while nephrite is more common. Another way to differentiate the two, before purchasing, is by their degree of hardness on the MOHS scale: nephrite has a hardness of 6.5 and jadeite 7.

A finished jade product goes through a long and laborious process before becoming a piece of jewelry or decoration. Beginning with its creation, jade is formed out of the intense heat and pressure from the earth's moving tectonic plates which come into contact with water at a certain point. The areas where jade is produced, often near rivers, are then mined. Long hours and a tremendous amount of work go into digging away at these sites where boulders are then extracted. These boulders are then cut into slabs or layers; high-powered saws with diamond edges are often used as jade is a very tough stone. Various shapes are then drawn on the jade slab or piece and from there it is constantly sanded and polished until the shape is reached. Diamond-edged tools are also used to make the intricate designs seen on jade. Found deep in caves and in mountains, and crafted with immense skill, a finished jade piece takes a great amount of patience and dedication to create. One can then see that jade is prized not only for its beauty, but for the virtues one must maintain in the jade process.

With such highly esteemed meanings and valued uses, it only makes sense that one should have jade on a wrist or neck-but more importantly, in the home. As such an all-aspect-of-life-touching element, why not bring jade's offering of good luck and health into your life everyday with some of Mrs. Lin's jade giftware. Jade's fortune has lasted for thousands of years and is sure to continue in your home as well.

  OUR 2002 NEWSLETTERS

December Celebrations in Asia


The Principles of Japanese Tableware

The Art of Eglomise

The Three Most Popular Thai Herbs

JADE: The Stone of Immortality and Beauty

The Legend of Daruma

The Lucky Cat

The Art of Beautiful Writing

All Steamed Up: Springtime Mushimono

Chinese ID: The Chop/Seal

Cast Away Illness with Cast Iron

Incense

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