Jade handicraft

 Jade handicraft

Chinese handicraft has stood out in the endless flow of Chinese culture: It was an emblem of the ingenuity of the ancient Chinese. Today it still shines in the world. It began very early and develops very quickly. Its achievements are most remarkable.

Jade handicraft is the oldest Chinese handicraft. It dates back to the Neolithic Age, with a history of between five and ten millennia.

China is the largest Jade producing country in the world. Jade production in China has a long history and a large distribution. According to the statement in "Canon of Mountains and Seas", there were more than 200 jade mines in China. Hetian county in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region has the most famous jade mine. Hetian jade is best in color and quality, and commands a high price. It is the most important source of raw material for the ancient jade craft. In all dynasties, the royalties preferred Hetian jade. Beside, Jiuquan jade from Gansu province, Lantian jade from Shaanxi province, Dushan jade and Mi County jade from Henan province and cave-rock jade from Liaoning province are all sources of raw material for the Chinese jade craft.

It has to be note that jade in the Chinese culture has wider implications. Xu Shen is the Han Dynasty stated in his work" Analysis of Words", "Jade is a stone with five merits". The five merits are: hardness, sheen, fine color, compact composition and pleasing sound . To the ancient Chinese, jade included not only genuine jade, but also serpentine, turquoise, malachite, agate, crystal, amber, ruby, emerald and other colored precious stones.

As early as 7,000 years ago, in the period of Hemudu Culture in the south of China, the primitives selected fine stones in the course of making stone tools to make ornaments for themselves, thus staring the Chinese jade culture. In the later Neolithic Age four thousand to five thousand years ago. jade handicraft had gradually matured. Jade carving separated itself from stone tools making and became an independent craft. Already there were many different jade articles, including tools such as jade spade, jade axe and jade knife, weapons such as jade sword, jade spear and jade dagger axe and articles for daily use, such as jade comb, jade hairpin and jade earpick. There were many varieties of jade ornaments of excellent craftsmanship, such as the jade figurines of man, dragon, phoenix, tiger, etc.

Etiquette jade objects were indispensable for rituals of the nobles, signifying status and power. Jade tablet held in hand represented the status of the noble. Round jade pieces were used in worshipping Heaven. Square jade pieces were used for worshipping Earth. From the beginning, the Chinese jade objects had a mysterious flavor. Jade objects of the Liangzhu Culture and the Hongshan Culture represented best the ancient Chinese jade craftsmanship. Liangzhu jade objects were characterized by large size and symmetry and particularly by the bas-relief. Hongshan jade objects were characterized by the mastery of the craftsmen of the art of carving life-like objects, taking advantage of the original shapes of the jade material. Resemblance and fine workmanship, rather than size, characterized the jade objects of Hongshan Culture.

In the Shang Dynasty, practical jade articles appeared alongside sacrificial bronze articles. The practical jade articles included green jade and black jade food containers. There were more jade articles in the shapes of animals than in geometrical shapes. There were jade dragon, jade phoenix, jade parrot, etc., in different gestures and postures. Jade tortoise, the earliest colorful jade object, made its first appearance. The jade sculptures marked a great success of jade craftsmen. They would carve two dental parallel lines to that a raised line appeared between them to bring about a more forceful and complicated effect, avoiding monotony.

In the Spring-Autumn-Warring-States Period jade carving art developed to a high level, comparable with the stone carving art in ancient Greece and Rome. Wearing jade ormaments was very fashionable. Every official wore jade ornaments from head to feet. They were in images of dragon, phoenix and tiger in the form of "S", showing a marked national characteristic. They were often fretted and reticulated, and plump and harmonious. A linked jade pendent unearthed from the tomb of Duke Zeng Yi in Hubei province, and a big annular jade pendant unearthed at Guwei Village in Hui County of Henan province both were made by linking several pieces of jade, showing a high level of craftsmanship.

In the Han Dynasty, jade craft developed further on the basis of the jade craft in the Warring States Period. The basic setup of the Chinese jade culture was established. In the Han Dynasy, jade articles might be divided into four categories: etiquette jade, burial jade, ornamental jade and exhibition jade. The burial jade and he exhibition jade were the most artistic. The burial jade included the jade garment, the nine-aperture jade plugs, the mouth jade and the holding jade. The jade garments were sewn respectively with gold threads, silver threads and copper threads, depending upon the status of the deceased. The nine-aperture jade plugs were used to cover the nine human apertures (ears, eyes, mouth, nostrils, anus and genital) for the purpose of stopping the "spirit" from getting out and preventing the corpse from rotting. The exhibition jade articles were mostly sculptures and reliefs, showing the bold Han artistic style. Recently, a large number of ornamental jade articles were unearthed from the Han tombs in the southern Yue Kingdom in modern Guangdong province. Of these, the dragon-tiger jade belt hook and the linked jade rings with chased dragon and phoenix patterns were most refined, and were rare national treasures.

The jade articles in the Tang dynasty unearthed were not many but were all refined art works with excellent draftsmanship. The Tang jade craftsmen drew artistic nourishment from painting, sculpture and art of the Western Region, and made jade articles characterized with thriving Tan style. The practical ornamental jade articles were predominant among the jade articles in Song, Liao and Jin Dynasties. Their purpose was more for amusement than for etiquette. A typical jade article of the Yuan Dynasty was the Dushan Jade Bowl, shaped like a sea animal in a surging sea, showing the bold style of the Mongolians.

The Ming and Qing Dynasties were the heyday of Chinese jade craft with respect to quality of material, craftsmanship, variety and quantity. The scope of the uses of jade articles was unprecedented. The imperial families of the two dynasties, loved jade very much. Emperor Qianlong in the Qing Dynasty spared no effort to advocate using jade and o find theoretical reasons for it. The jade bowls of the Ming Dynasty unearthed from the Ding Mausoleum, and the chrysanthemum-petal jade trays and the jade carving depicting some maids in the shade of a parasol of the Qing Dynasty, were all royal jades. At the same time, jade shops did a brisk business. Jizhu Lane is Suzhou of Jiangsu province was the center of the jade craft in the Ming Dynasty, as stated in a saying, "Superb jades were gathered in the capital, but ingenious jade craftsmen gathered in Suzhou."

In the two dynasties, many tea cups and wine sups were made of jade. Thee appeared many jade articles, such as jade stoves, incense burners, vases, tripods, food containers, etc., imitating the ancient bronze sacrificial vessels. Although they resembled the ancient bronze vessels in appearance, yet their patterns and styles belonged to the craftsmen in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Jades were in wide use by scholars in their studies: jade stationery and jade decorations were both fashionable. Borrowing from painting, sculpture and other arts, and assimilating the technique of intaglio, relief, hollowing, chasing, tinting, and burning, the jade craft attained the highest level.

With the care and ingenuity of the jade craftsmen and the advocating for emperors, officials and scholars, after a very long period f continuous development, jade articles are thought to have a supernatural power. They are omnipotent and omnipresent, a spiritual necessity in the life of the Chinese. Chinese jades also have a unique place in the culture of the world, splendid and charming forever.