Cultural Characteristics of Jade Articles.
Random photo: Impressions of China
Jade articles produced in ancient China were used in sacrificial ceremonies, rituals, funerals, and adornments. With Their solid and smooth quality, and lustrous colors, jade products have always been famous for Their beauty and style.
In ancient times, jade was only used for personal ornaments. After the middle and later Period of the Neolithic Age, large jade articles replaced small ones. Large jade articles, usually symbolizing a certain political prestige, began to reflect the ideas of the social class system and ancient religions. Until this time, jade pieces had been regarded as merely ornaments, but the stone now became closely connected to a ritual system.
Sacrificial ceremonies occupied a place of great importance to the nobility of the Shang Dynasty (c. 17th century-11th century BC). As well as elaborately engraved and magnificent bronze ritual articles, they carved many colorful and stylistic jade ritual articles. After the overthrow of the Shang Dynasty, the Western Zhou Dynasty (c. 11th century-771 BC) created a sacrificial ceremonial system corresponding to the patriarchal system. This social class system and its ideas were distinctively reflected in the use of jade ritual articles. The rules of this system laid down the use of "green bi as a tribute to worship the Heaven, yellow tong to worship the Earth, blue gui to worship the East, red zhang to worship the South, white bu to worship the West, and black buang to worship the North..” Jade articles were also produced in various shapes of gui to represent six official ranks: zhenggui for kings, buangui for dukes, xingui for marquises, gonggui for earls, and gubi foe viscounts and pubi for barons. Thus, jade articles used in ritual ceremonies for nobles of different ranks were also strictly distinguished from each other. Jade articles became marks of different classes in the Kingdom of Heaven and the world of man. During the Western Zhou period, grand sacrificial ceremonies promoted the development of jade article production. However, confined by the conceptions of the social class system, jade articles, though produced in great quantifies, and were limited in variety.
During the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC) and the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), drastic changes took place in social, political, economic and ideological spheres. As a result, the functions of jade articles changed accordingly. Jade ritual articles began to play a role in paying respect to the king, making vows, marriages and funerals. By now, the concept that the conduct of people being of greater importance than gods was gradually growing and developing. Jade articles were used more frequently to illustrate the moral aspects of man. In The Book of Rits, jade is described as "mild, smooth and lustrous like the virtue of a kind and decent man. It is fine, precise, and solid, just like the virtue of a wise man. It is cut with angles and corners, but will not hurt anyone, like the virtue of a righteous man. A jade ornament worn as a pendant is like a benign, modest man of good manners. When it is struck, it gives a clear, resonant and lingering sound which lasts till it comes to a sudden stop, just like the attitude of a man of virtue toward music. The beauty of a piece of jade co-exists with its flaws which are not covered up, like the behavior of a loyal and honest man. It is crystalline and transparent and shiny, like the quality of purity which springs from the bottom of a good man’s heart.
By the beginning of the Han Dynasty (206 BC -220 AD), although gui were still being used as ritual articles, other jade articles at the time were used only as ornaments. Hardly any zhang and tong had been found from this period, and those that had were refashioned out of older ones. Yestiges of the ritual system surrounding jade articles gradually vanished. The production of jade articles in the Han period, having broken from the traditional influence of the ritual system, had entered a new stage of development. The jade articles of the Han Period were produced with a vigorous, firm, bold and unconstrained style, pursuing an artistic beauty, free from vulgarity, which reflected the lofty aspiration of the unified Han empire and marked the transformation of jade article production from being merely ornamental to works of art.
During the periods of the Three Kingdoms, the Western and Eastern Jin dynasties and the Southern and Northern Dynasties (220-589), when Taoism had grown in strength, people believed that jade had medicinal properties that could make them live longer, resulting in a temporary craze for eating jade. This, however, did not affect the further development of the use of jade for decoration.
Jade is a natural substance, but when it is processed and crafted by man into ornamental and ritual articles it becomes stamped with the mark of society and becomes a part of culture. As an old Chinese saying goes, "Until jade is cut, it is not jadeware." By fashioning the stone into an article to be used by man, man's thinking and feeling are instilled into it. It becomes a symbol reflecting the evolution of social life, from its use in ritual to its use as an ornament. The achievements of human civilization can be embodied either by a "thing" or an "idea." Superficially, they have nothing to do with each other, but m fact, they have a common point. The evolution of jade production demonstrated a change within Chinese philosophy from theism to humanism.
Ancient Chinese jadeware reached a very high artistic level. The jade articles of the Shang period embodied a combination of carving skills inherited from previous times such as concave and convex lines, relief, and round carvings. All these skills were employed naturally and dexterously with skillful coordination, delicate and clear patterns and regular and balanced shapes. A large quantity of jade articles was produced, particularly During the latter part of the Shang, mostly engraved with smooth lines and complicated patterns of high aesthetic value. More than 1,900 jade articles were unearthed from the Fuhao tomb, and these are typical of those produced in the later Shang period. They can be classified into two categories: flat and round ones. The flat ones have similar and symmetrical patterns on both sides, harmonious and perfect, an expression of the essential spirit of traditional Chinese culture (see the "Introduction" to this book). Flat articles are fan-like or circular-shaped with arc circumference. Their outward edge is convex and the inward edge is concave, suggesting a dynamic sense of movement. Their exactly cut contours give a full presentation of the features of the work with the effect of a papercut, hence known as "papercut-style jade engraving art."
The round ones are produced in the shape of a cylinder or a cube. They include cong (a kind of jade articles produced in ancient China, with a round hole in the center of a rectangular-shaped jade) and gui (a food container with a wide and round mouth and two ears) and other shapes with animal and figure designs. Cong and gui are produced with a style of solemnity and dignity, and those with a bird and beast design are grotesque and full of imagination and romantic taste. The only two turtle-shaped pieces of jade that have been handed down to the present time are produced with the original and natural colors and grains of jade. The material's original deep dark color is retained to make the shells of the turtles and Their eyes and claws stand out in sharp relief against the white and gray colors of the other parts, showing a more realistic image with a wonderful and naturally-made effect. Later, many artisans and craftsmen followed After the skills of the craftsmanship, known as "beautifully colored jade articles." These two jade turtles are the jade articles so far discovered in the country.
The artistic style of jadeware produced in the Western Zhou Dynasty tended toward simplicity. A unique craftsmanship was created by using coarse block lines or delicate intaglio cur lines while maintaining the way of drawing an outline with double lines, a skill passed down from the Shang period. Patterns were usually expressed by simple and robust cut lines, and the typical patterns include that of kui (a one-foot bizarre dragon-like beast in ancient legend) and phoenix. The shapes of jade articles produced in the Eastern Zhou (770-256 BC) were of a great variety. But they had a conspicuous feature, that is, they pursued a spiritual likeness of things. Most of the jade articles produced at this time contained decorative motifs. Such motifs as those of phoenix and panbui (a kind of viper) derived from that of kui were very common. During the Warring States Period, patterns of clouds and grains were very popular. At the time, gold and silver articles were very commonly inlaid with jade.
Along with the improvement of tools and techniques in the making of jade articles, such articles as those with raised relief and round carved patterns were produced in great quantity. And more hollowed-out cut articles and vessels appeared as well. Their patterns and decorations were rich and colorful, such as grains, cattail leaves, whirls and clouds and designs of dragon, phoenix, taotie (a fierce and voracious beast in ancient legend) and li (a kind of dragon without horns in ancient legend, the image of which was often used as decorative pattern on art works) and tiger. The jade figurines, galloping horses and jade pixia (an ornament to ward off evil spirits) round carving works typical of the Han style, are novelties, superb in design and craftsmanship with lively looks. They are unique in China's ancient carving art. They have not only inherited the Tradition of the round carving skills passed down from the Shang and Zhou dynasties, but also absorbed the romantic style of the Chu culture, fully expressing a vigorous, firm, bold and unconstrained style.
Though less in number, yet each of the jade articles of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) was exquisitely produced. Their style was closely linked with the delicate style of gold and silver articles and the full and bold style of sculptural art and the refined and detailed style in painting. The way of expression was realistic with round carving and relief to show the outline of the product and rough intaglio cut lines to show its looks and appearance. The skills in the making of jade articles of this stage reached the acme of perfection. Image articles were usually produced with well-designed images and good and lively appearance, jade art beginning to scale a new height of development.
During the Northern and Southern Song dynasties (960-1279), designs of jade articles pursued a target to show the common psychology of society and the designed shapes were mostly imitating the images of flowers, grass, birds and beasts commonly Seen in daily life. The way of expression mostly used was hollowed-out carving, with both complicated and beautiful patterns or fresh and graceful designs, all attaining a high degree of unification of life and art. During the time, since the rise of epigraphy and the popularity of a tendency of favoring antiquity, imitated antique jade articles appeared. The craftsmen of the time, to copy the ancient products, invented a way to make products dyed with flaws. With its wonderful hollowed-out skill and vivid and lively patterns of flowers and birds and its new imitated antique articles, the jade carving craftsmanship of the Song Period produced a far-reaching influence upon the later development of jade articles. Meanwhile, the clearly and simply designed articles with a strong realistic style produced in the Liao Period and the J in Dynasty (1115-1234) products characteristic of using chunshan and qiushui jade are also of high value of art.
Jade articles of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) adopted the skillful hollowed-out craftsmanship passed down from the Song and Jin periods. And the relief technique was also dexterously applied. The main patterns were flowers, birds, landscapes, Li and tigers and sea animals. The jade articles with flower and bird patterns are characteristic of the Chinese trumpet creepers, with a quite different model and design from those of Their preceding times. Particularly, the Dushan large jade sculpture, which was produced with a feeling of magnificence and a style of simplicity, robust and bold and unconstrained, is the best representative product of all Jade article production of Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) periods incorporated all kinds of the craftsmanship of the past ages. The jade articles made in the Ming Period fea tared a modeling of roughness and boldness and vigor with such themes as ordinary people and animals and plants. Hollowed-out skill was very commonly used. On a piece of flat jade, craftsmen could cut out different patterns on the upper and lower levels of it and could properly administer the harmonious balance between the superficial and internal parts. Decorations included flowers and birds, animals and auspicious designs, figures and stories. The products were clear and graceful with a strong taste of painting and the curves and lines are stout, firm and clear-cut. The imitated antique products of the time were produced as good as Their originals. Jade products of the Qing Period are characteristic of large size, great quantity and fine quality. The craftsmanship of traditional intaglio cut and line, relief and hollowed-out cut was fully developed into an acme of perfection. Lines were cut as straight as a rule and a circle as round as a full moon. Hollowed-out cut products were crystalline and all the detailed parts were carefully and elaborately done, suggestive of a feeling of harmony and satisfaction. Landscapes, figures, flowers and birds, legendary and mythical stories, and such designs and inscriptions as auspiciousness, longevity and wealth and rank, which were cut on pieces of jade, had attained a high level of artistry. Particularly, those designs of landscape, flowers and grass and figures and stories that sought a painting effect had reached an art realm of combining poetry and painting. In the Qing period, its imitated antique products also attained a peak of perfection in terms of Their aesthetic value. Meanwhile, its techniques to produce beautiful jade also reached its peak of development. Bright and colorful jade products of the Ming and Qing periods have drawn a satisfactory full stop for China's jade article production.
Jade articles induced by a primitive and hazy sense of beauty appeared and have undergone twists and turns in Their development of more than 7,000 years from simple decorations to sacrificial ritual articles in ancient times and to symbolic fittings for lofty morality, and finally to art works of various types and varieties. They profoundly reflected the social consciousness of different historical stages. Especially in a certain stage of development, people made the natural properties of jade moralized, enabling it to play a special role in political, religious, ideological and cultural spheres and develop a unique function that other art works could not do. In the world cultural history, this cultural phenomenon has never been known in other countries and regions, and embodies a distinctive national character.
More about Traditional Chinese Art and Crafts
- Bronze Mirrors
The development of bronze mirrors occurred much later than other bronze articles and jadeware.
- Carved Marks
and the Invention of Chinese Characters.
- Chinese Painting
and Traditional Chinese Culture.
- Gold and Silver
Connotation of Articles.
- Jade Articles
Cultural Characteristics of .
- Pottery and Jade
China - A World of .
- Pottery and Porcelain
Bronze, Ware and Ancient Chinese Culture.