Saturday, 2 November 2013

Development of Jades

Depicted from The Origins of Chinese Art and Craft

        Jades have been in use in China for at least 7000-8000 years, which can be divided into five major periods. In the first period, objects appeared and experienced the initial development between 8000 and 4000 years ago, corresponding to the Neolithic Period. By the late Neolithic Period, China’s jade objects had already developed to a relatively mature level. Examples include the C-shaped jade dragon unearthed at the site of Hongshan Culture in Northeast China and the ‘beast-face’ jade article found at the site of Liangzhu Culture in East China. They are both jade treasures manufactured with superb skills.
        The second period lasted from the late Neolithic Age to the Western Zhou Dynasty. The Erlitou Culture belonged to the late Neolithic Age during which jade weapons came to existence. Jade making technologies improved significantly in the Shang Dynasty. In particular, during the late period of the dynasty, the variety of jade objects increased considerably compared with the first period. Jade was used for making ritual vessels, weapons, tools and daily utensils. For example, found at the ruins of Sanxingdui dating back to the late Shang Dynasty were large jade articles such as a one-metre-long jade zhang (a type of elongated pointed jade tablet held in the hands by ancient rulers on ceremonial occasions), a round jade bi (a disc with a round perforation in its centre) with a diameter of 80-plus cm, some jade huang (an arc-shaped plaque) and jade hairpins.
        The third period refers to the Spring and Autumn and Warring States period. The appearance or ironware during the Warring States Period led to an epochal technical advance in the making of jade objects. In shape, the traditional C-shaped jade dragon gave way to the bow-shaped one. In style, the jade articles made during this period look more vivid and realistic such as jade horses, jade birds and jade figures. Other typical jade articles include the 300-plus jade objects unearthed from the mausoleum of Marquis Yi or Zeng.
        The fourth period lasted from the Han Dynasty to the Ming Dynasty. During the Han Dynasty, with the decline in rites and rituals, the purposes of jade making shifted from serving ritual ceremonies to functioning as decorations. As a result, there appeared a large number of decorative jade articles, such as jade belt buckles, slit jade rings, jade bracelets, jade rings, jade plates as well as a multitude of animal-shaped jade ornaments. In addition, jade sprouts and other burial jade articles were also made. Hence, a new height was reached in jade making.
        There was a transitional stage in this period, extending from the Wei-Jin Dynasties through the Tang Dynasty. Fascinated with gold and silverware, people started to show less interest in jade articles. By the Song Dynasty, due to the rise of archaeology, jades gradually recaptured public attention. Special markets and shops sold jade articles.
        The fifth period lasted from the mid-Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty. This marked the high point of Chinese jade making. In the middle and late periods of the Ming Dynasty, independent jade-making styles appeared in the hands of some highly-skilled craftsmen, paving the way technically for the continued flourish of jade art in the Qing Dynasty.

        Representing the peak of jade art in the Qing Dynasty, the imperial court jade craftsmen inherited the previous jade-making art; at the same time, they absorbed painting techniques and foreign carving styles, evolving an array of rich and exquisite skills. The best-known jade artwork is ‘Emperor Yu taming the river.’ This period also produced the first Chinese emperor passionate about collecting jades. He was none other than Emperor Qianlong. Twenty-five imperial seals were made in the Qing Dynasty and 23 of them were made of jade. Emperor Qianlong wrote some 830 poems or essays singing praises of the beauty and purity of jades and expounding his aesthetic views on jade artworks.    


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