Stone of Heaven

21 Nov

“A long time ago when man was first on the earth, we were vulnerable, weak and prey to the wild beast that roam the land; we look up to the storm god and asked for help. The storm god look down at us and took pity, he grab a rainbow with one hand, and with the other he forged an axe and threw it down to earth for man to find, so man did and called this Jade axe, the stone of heaven”.  This legend is one of many beliefs that Chinese people have passed down through the century regarding the stone called Jade.  There are many treasures in the world from gold to diamonds, to ruby, but no stone has played a greater influence in so many cultures development than the stone called Jade. Too many Jade is not just a gemstone, but it is an artifact, a symbol of religious, spiritual and divine gift from heaven.   It became not just part of a culture but a way of life for many that possess it.

When we mention Jade we think right away about China, reason being no other civilizations has taken Jade into its culture than China has. Ever since there was written text in China, there has been written account of Jade. The use of Jade in Chinese history dates back to 5000 years, back to the Neolithic period long before written records. The Neolithic or new Stone Age period, represented the first mention of Jade used in China. As Chinese legend mention, the used of Jade in early history were only as tools. The Chinese during this time preferred the used of Jade over other stone due to its metal like quality and durability. Jade has a tough and dense form, and high resistant to breakage unlike other stone like flint, or normal rocks. Jade unique characteristic made it the perfect stone to create tools, and weaponry. This created a huge advantage for those that possess this stronger than steel material.  The used of Jade, quickly integrated itself into Chinese culture, becoming part of a ritual, spiritual and symbolic meaning.

In Chinese culture Jade played a major role in the empire, and common people lives. It’s believed that Jade was the characteristic that one should live by, to live a Jade life. The great Chinese philosopher Confucius said Jade possesses the quality that all people should have, “… wise men have seen in Jade all the different virtues. It is soft, smooth and shining, like kindness; it is hard, fine and strong, like intelligence; it’s edges seem sharp, but do not cut like justice; it hangs down to the ground, like humility; when struck, it gives a clear, ringing sound, like music; the stains in it, which are not hidden and which add to its beauty are like truthfulness; it’s brightness is like heaven, while it’s firm substance, born of the mountains and waters, is like the earth.” The quality of kindness, intelligence, justice, humility, and honesty that is in Jade, which made it so admired and adorned by Chinese people. To possess it, is to obtain these qualities.

The Jade quickly became a ritual symbol, and sacred stone among the Chinese culture, early carvings of the Jade can be found as early as the 3500 BC. The Jade was so prized it was reserved only for Royalties, and those nobles that served the kingdom. The white Jade, is the most prize color in the kingdom, known to be extremely rare and scarce. The early finding of Jade carving was very simple, most had animalistic characteristic. The Jade carving with each generation grew more refine and detailed, intricate and complex designs were incorporated into these pieces.  This growing progression of art carving helps to identify which period the Jade was from, since Jade is almost impossible to determine the correct time period base on the Jade alone.

In 1908 Japanese archaeologist named Torii Ryūzō  was the first to discovered the HongShan culture in a burial site in Hongshan District, Chifeng. In the burial sites, he also found copper rings, which indicate during this Neolithic period the Chinese had access to metal work.The Hongshan Culture(3500-2200 B.C.)  were the first Chinese culture to have taken carving in Jade. The Hongshan designs were simple and comprised mostly of birds and animals, with a feminine characteristic quality, that showed their matrilineal society. The most recognizable pieces of Jade from this era are the fetus dragon, pig dragon and phoenix dragon motif.

After the Hongshan came the Liangzhu Culture ( 3400-2250 B.C.) with it’s design being spiritual faces, and incised lines. The first time that the Bi Jade carving appeared, the symbol of heaven.Then came the Chichia Culture(  2000 B.C.), Sanxingdui Culture(c. 1600 B.C.-221 B.C.) ,Longshan Culture(c. 2800B.C.-1700 B.C.), Xia Dynasty(2183 B.C. – 1751 B.C.) Shang Dynasty(1766 B.C. – 1122 B.C. )Western Zhou Dynasty(1122 B.C. -771B.C.),Spring-Autumn, Warring States & Chin Dynasty( 770B.C. – 206 B.C),Han Dynasty( 220 B.C. -220 A.D.),Sui, Tang, Song & Yuan Dynasties( 589 D.D. -1368 A.D.)And Ming & Qing Dynasties( 1368 A.D. – 1911 A.D.). Each of the time period contributed to development of Jade carving but also exhibit a different emphasis in the carving, with the Ming & Qing dynasty showing the peak of Jade Artisan skill. During the 1911 revolution of China, Communist takeover force the art of jade carving for a short period, but that was later reversed when Communist leaders needed foreign revenue investment.

One major role of Jade in Chinese culture has been the ritual and ceremony use. It is believed that the Jade Bi, was a symbol of heaven and conduit for the Emperor to speak to the heaven. The Bi is also part of the six ritual Jade piece ceremony perform. When someone is decease a ceremony of six Jade is performed. The first piece being the Bi, a flat doughnut Jade was placed on the back. The second piece   Cong (Ts’sung ), cylinder with four flat side piece represented the earth. The four side represented the element wood, wind, water, and fire. The third piece the Kuei, a sword like tablet representing the Imperial power was placed to the left of the deceased.  The last three piece hu, huang, and chang made up the four season and direction along with the Kuei. This ceremony was reserved for people of status, who could afford these Jade pieces to be carved. In Burying ceremony, no other is as prestigious as the emperor. When the emperor is to be buried, he is covered from head to feet in Jade. Small square Jade pieces are sewn together with gold wire, and the emperor entire body is covered in Jade.

In the new World, the Mesoamerica  civilization have grown to treasure the Jade stone above any gold or silver. The stone of the heaven too, have found worshipped and appreciation in the new world. The first civilization of the new world , the Olmec in Mexico have used Jade in their human figure carving long  before the Aztec and Mayan. The advancement in carving develop by the Olmec was passed on later to the Aztec and Mayan. The  Mesoamerican civilization prize Jade among all due to the qualities that the Chinese found in it, how tough and  metal like quality, that  only modern day harden steel can surpassed.  The Jade was believed to be have healing properties, that helped with kidney problems, this believe was then taken by the Spaniards that later came to plunder. When  Conquistador Cortez captured the Aztec ruler  Montezuma, , Montezuma offered to give Cortez a gift that was highly prized and value among his people, the gift of Chalchihuitl. When Cortez saw the much talked about treasure, he was disappointed it was just Jade. Unlike the Europeans who treasure gold , Jade was priceless among the Mesoamerican civilization. They used the stone in their carving, their worship and part of life. The Aztec admired the stone so much, they had inlay the Jade stone into their teeth, much like today rappers do with diamonds for the bling affect.

The Maori of New Zealand, long before European arrival, have long been using Jade as a material in their daily lives. The Jade stone also have taken a strong integration into the society. The Jade usefulness and beauty help it established itself as the preferred stone among the Maori. The Maori used the Jade in tools, wares and jewelry. The Jade was called greenstone, the name is somewhat misleading since the Maori, refer to serpentine and green rocks with the same name. The Maoris artisan develops over time to carve figure out of Jade called Tiki. These carving were so highly prized by foreigners as souvenir that the demand for it exhausted the supply. The Maori with the European influences, slowly given up their art of Jade carving and this left a gap in the supply of the Tiki. Several European families decided to enter the Tiki business. From 1896 to 1914 more than a million Maori Tiki were made and sold. Often the Maori tiki made in Germany would end up back in New Zealand to be sold. Many Museums of the world that have Tiki from New Zealand, displayed these European made Maoris tiki, not knowing the origin.

When we talk about Jade, there are two families of Jade that varies in color and mineral composite. The first is Nephrite , the Jade is a silicate of calcium and magnesium, part of the amphibole group, which ranges from pure white ( actinolite,absent of iron) to green (tremolite, colored by iron).  Nephrite is often called the old Jade, or soft Jade due to its historic and toughness rating. Nephrite can  resist pressures of over  90,000 pounds per square inch before crumbling. On the Mohs toughness scale rating, it score a 6.5, tougher than gold, silver, feldspars and Turquoise. The word Nephrite comes from Nephriticus  in French,  the original name was  piedra de ijada (Spanish for  “stone of the loins”)but bad translation from Spanish  to French left it as le Jade. The word then became Jade in English with the first recorded used in the Chamber Encyclopedia in 1727.

                The second one that has changed the world is Jadeite, this stone with the composition of   silicate of sodium and aluminum. The Chromium in it causes it vibrant green color and harder density over Nephrite. The new stone Jadeite is often referred to as “new Jade or harder Jade” by Chinese people. Jadeite has a rating of 7 on the Mohs scale of toughness, making it a lot stronger and tougher than Nephrite. The Mesoamerican Jade and the Burma Jade are both Jadeite, while Chinese Jade before 1750 is only Nephrite. In 1863 French scientist Alexis Damour discovered the two different Jade type, between Burma Jade and China Jade. The Jade from Mesoamerica and Burma both are Jadeite, while the Chinese and Maoris Jade are nephrite.

For the last 5000 years of Chinese history and tradition, China has always been keen on keeping its tradition, and culture alive, always keeping true to what generations before it had used. But in 1750, a small little country paying tribute to China sent it a gift that will forever change history. The import of this alluring and prized gift known as Jadeite, unlike Nephrite, this gift was bright, shiny, with colors in all spectrum of the rainbow. It was like night and day different between Jadeite and Nephrite. The introduction of Jadeite, gave artist a new hue of paint colors to work with, new bolder designs and different approach to carve Jade. The Jade quickly moved away from the realm of sacred and reserved for ceremony, to jewelry. The Jadeites quickly replace Nephrite Jade as the preferred choice of material, it quickly moved Jade from the spiritual, and ceremony used to fashionable jewelry. The nobility class and those of status quickly took to acquiring this precious stone. Even until today Jadeite is the dominate Jade in jewelry and prized more than Nephrite. The Jade that was once used in imperial court and sacred ceremony was abandon, and Jadeite became the only one considered the status of gem quality. The transition from Nephrite to Jadeite was made easy due to the Chinese Language for calling Jade “Yu”, and when they refer to Nephrite, they call it “Old Yu or Soft Yu”, While Jadeite is called “new Yu, or Harder Yu”.

There is a saying you can put a value on anything, there is a price on gold, silver, and diamond, but Jade is priceless. The Jade you buy is nothing more than a rock,but the price of its worth is in the eye of the buyer. The Emperor K’ang Hsi ( a.d. 1662-1722) have said “If Jade is discarded and pearls destroyed, petty thieves will disappear, there being no valuable left to steal. “The value of Jade has skyrocketed since the introduction of Jadeite into China. The revenue of Jade sell in China for 2010 is estimated to have exceeded 200 billion yuan ($30.36 billion dollars). A recent auction in Hong Kong Sotheby’s for a white Imperial Jade seal set a record price of 12.23 million dollars. The Jade piece was the seal of the late emperor Qianlong emperor (1711- 1799) of the Qing Dynasty, had the inscription      “ Supreme Majesty”, made out of white imperial nephrite Jade. The price of Jade can be reflected in its historical significance, quality, type and most importantly how much the customer desires it.

Jade has been around for millions of years, and it will be here long after we are gone. The beauty of Jade is its ability to last and maintain itself without eroding or breaking apart over time. One piece of Jade can be passed down generation after generation without any changes to its appearance. This is why so many cultures have come to treasure Jade. It’s durability, beauty, mystique and lore has filled our lives, and for a brief moment we will share this world with the stone of heaven.



Desautels Paul E. “The jade Kingdom

 Springer; 1 edition (December 31, 1986)

Ward, Fred , “Jade

Gem Book Publishers; 2 edition (October 1, 2001)



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