By Raymond J G Wells
Jade is a thoroughly intriguing stone! For centuries it has preoccupied peoples of all races and cultures and from prehistoric times until today it has been held in great reverence for practical, aesthetic, mythological and commercial reasons.
It was mined and carved by the earliest civilizations such as the Maoris of New Zealand, the ancient Aztecs, the Mayans and the Chinese. As far back as the 10th century the Turks believed it helped to ensure victory in battle.
However, although Jade is a significant stone in many areas of the world, it has been the Chinese who over long centuries have perfected the craftsmanship of this fascinating precious living stone. Indeed, the preoccupation of the Chinese with Jade dates back to the Neolithic period during which items made of jade were buried with the dead. The Neolithic Chinese believed that the stone had the power to preserve the dead body.
Yu, a Chinese character with a connotation of ‘jewel’ or ‘treasure’, is the Chinese equivalent for ‘Jade’ in English. To the Chinese, however, Yu does not refer to one specific substance but to a wide range of minerals that are usually distinguished by elements of hardness, strength and translucence. As such, although technically the term ‘jade’ refers only to the two materials jadeite and nephrite, many Chinese would consider carvings made from jade simulants as equal and precious parts of a jade collection.
Jade simulants are natural gem minerals, glass or plastic substitutes that appear to have some of the visual characteristics as jade but lack jade’s unique optical, physical and chemical properties, and include minerals such as aventurine, jasper, cornelian and rose quartz.
Green is the most popular jade color and the most prized jade is the “Imperial” or “Old Mine Jade”. Jade dealers only employ the term “Imperial” for the most translucent and richest color of emerald green. The term “Old Mine Jade” refers to the first mining site in the Kachin Hills of Myanmar, which has long since been exhausted.
What is Good Jade?
Judging what is good jade can be a subjective affair. A lot of experience is required. Every collector has different taste and different ideas of what to look for in a piece of jade, but there are some basic guidelines to follow.
Jade is translucent and not transparent like glass. Opacity in fact lowers its quality. Cracks and the presence of impurities further reduce its value. However the beauty of a piece of jade will be enhanced if there is a small flaw somewhere, just as, it is said, a gentleman with a little fault is more interesting than one without.
The essential value of jade is its beauty which ultimately depends on factors such as color and tone; shape, size and dimension; translucency and clarity, polish, texture and finish. No one piece of jade is ever the same as another, it has a quality character and hue of its own.
The Power of Jade
Jade is the second most important material after bronze in the history of Chinese culture, and the belief in its magical powers is very evident in Chinese mythology, religion, philosophy, folklore and social life.
It is believed that jade can protect one from evil and bring good luck. People have been said to escape accidents because they had a piece of jade on them. In some these cases, the jade piece broke, leaving the person unharmed.
Jade is frequently used in Chinese alchemy and medicine. The Chinese believe jade has the ability to confer immortality, eradicate shortness of breath and thirst, as well as improve the health of the heart, kidneys, lungs and throat. Some people believe that scars on the face and body can be removed if constantly rubbed with a piece of white jade.
Comforter to the Dead
Jade articles have been used by both the living and the dead. “The living wear jade as a symbol of their moral integrity, and jade accompanies the deceased to comfort their souls.” Sacrificial utensils made of jade were used for offerings to ancestors and in ceremonial respect to the gods of heaven and earth.
Jade is a favorite material used for jewelry such as necklaces, rings, earrings, bracelets, combs and hairpins, and is also often set in walking sticks, caps and sashes.
Jade has also been used to make practical items like brush holders, water cups, armrests and brush washers.
Symbol of Nobility
Jade was frequently worn by the nobility as a sign of their office and authority. In early times, jade axes and spades were carried by the nobility, and these later evolved into Gui – an elongated jade tablet. The emperor would also dispatch an official with a jade “tablet of authority” to proclaim the task assigned to him.
There you have it. A round-up of the remarkable Jade which the Chinese believe not only dispels illness but brings good fortune and wards off evil. Isn’t it about time you bought yourself some Jade!
Copyright 2000 Raymond Wells
Raymond Wells is a British born economist and writer currently living and working in Malaysia. He has numerous writing credits in both print and electronic magazines. Among the former are articles in Day and Night, Trailfinder, Southern Scribe, Writer’s Forum, International Living, Changi, Far East Traveler and Home and Country. He has written for e-zines such as Tempo, Worldwide Freelance Writer, Zinos, Writers Mirror, BootsnAllcom and now for the-vu.