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Ritual Use And Significance Of Jade Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 1923 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In ancient China, Jade was viewed as the most valuable, gracious and pure stone. A Chinese jade culture formed during the middle to late Neolithic period (c. 6000 to 2000 BC). The early Chinese believed that jade had an immortality of its own and was impermeable to perish (Pope-Hennessy, 1923. P.ix), for them there was no material more resilient, and more pre-eminently appropriate for the approach of religious symbolisms and the representation of belief. Jade is an expressive term given to two silicate minerals, nephrite, a calcium magnesium silicate and jadeite, a sodium aluminium silicate. Both these minerals are notable for their hardness and attractive appearance. Nephrite has a hardness of 6.5 on the Mohs hardness scale and jadeite 7.o. Jadeite is somewhat harder and rarer than nephrite. The colour of jade can vary greatly due to the presence of other elements in the stones. Jadeite’s colour is typically emerald green (Fitzhugh,? grove art). Jade objects because of their particular qualities, such as toughness and durability, often consist of the best preserved relics in excavations. Discoveries at Xiaogushan in Haicheng indicate that the beginning of jade manufacture may be tracked back some 12,000 years. Jade has been used in many significant and symbolic ways throughout ancient china, some of these includes its use in ceremonial weapons and implements, grave goods and body armours, animal figurines, Jewellery and its use in astronomy. This essay will discuss the ritual use and significance of this highly respected stone in ancient china throughout the years.

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Jade was considered largely immutable and symbolic of eternity, Chinese believed that this stone had supernatural qualities, and used it to perfume ritual worships. Jade objects were fashioned in a variety of shapes, often with special incised markings, to enhance the objects power as a medium between men and the spiritual world. It is believed that Jade-working technology was monopolized by shamans (spirit medium; healer), the masters of religious ceremonies.

Jade used in worship rituals to communicate with the spiritual world, thus established and maintained social relationship in an increasingly stratified society. Consequently the greater body of ritual jades include both worship jades and emblematic jades, both associated with the supernatural.

As jade played an important role as religious art objects, the shapes and designs of jade relics reflects the cosmological and religious views of each ruling power.

The early Chinese jade arts can be divided in to three primary geographic regions based on stylistic features. The first region occupied the Liao River valley, parts of Inner Mongolia, and the lower Yellow River valley. The second region covered the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River. The third region included the upper and middle regions of the Yellow River valley.

Numerous jade amulets and funerary objects have been found in Han dynasty tombs, surpassing those from Liangzhu culture sites.

Stone divine of ancient china:

From the dawn of their civilization the Chinese have regarded jade as the fairest and most desirable of stones, a material supremely fit to be fashioned in to religious ritual objects and the insignia of kings and princes. Though few Chinese can have met with jade in the unworked state, they understood that it grew in remote mountains higher than any in china. High mountains were believed to make physical contact with heaven itself, so what was more likely than that jade had been deposited in them by the divine will and action? This presumption would have been borne out by the extreme difficulty of extracting jade from the reef before the days of explosives. (grove art method of jade water and fire cracks…..)

Jade was regarded as exemplifying by its beauty, hardness and durability, the qualities to the supreme creative power, and to be highly charged it with creative forces.

(methods of polishing it in grove art also talk about toad grease )

Mysterious power of healing the body and even of conferring immortality were attributed to it. Jade amulets were buried with the dead for their supposed efficacy as a preservative of the corpse. Others were kept at home or carried on the person in forms of jewellery, hair piece, head piece…..

But apart from this the mere possession and frequent contemplation of finely worked objects of jade, especially white jade, have been held to be conductive to the cultivation of virtue and the expulsion of evil thoughts from the mind. It was thus that the stone was believed to exercise its beneficent influence on mankind in the eulogy attributed to Confucius.

It is Probable that they obtained their supply of jade from the region of Khotan and Yakand in Eastern Turkestan, were pebbles and boulders were collected from the beds of rivers, and where jade was later quarried from deposits in the western K’un-lun Mountains. The length and hazards of the journey were one reason for the high price it commanded in china.

Ceremonial weapons:

Ceremonial weapons and implements include some of the earliest of Chinese jade for they trace back to the Neolithic period. It was in the Shan and western Chou period that most of the innovations in shapes and decorations of jade objects were made. Most of the ceremonial jades that survived from the Shang dynasty were buried in tombs. They were evidently deemed necessary for a man’s proper burial and for the service of his spirit. A large number of jade sceptres were found in the sacrifice grounds at Hou-ma in Shansi province, in pits with sacrificed animals. Thus such ceremonial weapons were an integral part of sacrificial rites which in turn an important part of the social and political relations of the time. The different sceptres were often associated with ritual disc or pi and they seem to have shared the same function.

In such sacrifices the jade were clearly intended to invoke the help of spirits. It was probably because they had this power that they were buried with the dead. From the eighth century such sceptres are frequently found buried on the coffin or at the centre of the body and seem to be part of the growing preoccupation with the preservation of the body and seem to be part of the communication with the soul and the spirits. This function was shared with the pi and by the end of the Chou and Han periods had been taken over by the various types of pendants, as it will be discussed in more depth in the next part of the essay.

The pi is a circular jade disk, with a central orifice, and represents heaven. The pi is probably of very early origin; the consensus of learned opinion is that it was in use in pre-Shang days. The prime purpose of the pi in earliest China was the worship of heaven. It is known that pi were placed before the tablets of ancestors; in the coffins of the dead, and in times of great public calamity were offered lavishly to the hsien (spirits)

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The Ts’Ung is an emblem of peculiar interest both on account of its form and its significance. In the Chou Li it is stated that the master of religious ceremonies used the yellow jade tablet ts’ung with which to pay homage to earth. It is the symbol of heaven and earth, heaven is the round hollow part inside and earth is square.

In the Chou Li it is also stated that the eyes, nostrils ear holes and inside of the mouth and other openings of the dead body were covered with jade pieces. It was believed that if there was Gold and jade in the nine openings of the corpse it will be preserved from putrefaction. These pieces of jade are difficult to obtain as they used to be thrown away as rubbish when found in tombs. (FAT book )

Green book thin:

Many animal figurines from the Shang and western Chao dynasties were represented as beats that would have been significant for the people at the time, such as tigers, deer’s, bears and even exotic creatures as the rhinoceros. Birds play a prominent part and the fish and cicadas represent fertility and rebirth.

Many jade pieces found at the western chou period (11-8 century), were also incised with decoration of birds, dragons, mythical beasts.

The pendant worn by the rich shows one of the most important uses of jade carvings in the eastern Chou and Han periods, and indeed continued to be until at least as late as the Ming dynasty. Pendents were hung from the waist or as part of the furnishing from the canpies and walls. They were an important partof ceremonial dress.the most usual form of these pendants consists of pi or a huang an arch shaped jade, either singly or in combination. These pendats could have different shaoes such as pointed, shield shape and may of them have depiction sf dragons on them.

Jade suits sewn together using gold wire were made for the high nobles of the Han dynasty and a few of them have been discovered. The Chinese believed that jade had the power to confer life and therefore preserve the body of the dead.

Sword fittings and belt hooks made from jade in different pattersn and shapes such as dragon depictions show the first use of jade in an unceremonial or spiritual way.

Early vessels in jade from the Han dynasty (3rd century bc to 2nd century ad) are extremyl rare as they would had to be made from rather large pieceds of stne and were ususllay buried with the owner.

The phoenix (which is supposed to only land on stones of jade) and the dragon were believed to be the life source of family clans, and so effigies of the two animal deities were carved in jade and worn as ornaments that symbolized a man’s noble bearings

As for “ritual”, it is written “to serve the gods with jade”. Indeed, six ritual jade stones were used as offerings to the six directions in nature cults and funerary rites. The Liji or Book of Rites, compiled around 300 BC, states: “If a ruler perfectly observes the rites of the state, white jade will appear in the valley”. The specifics of the sacrifice are also found in the Liji: “To give grace to the sky, one needs a sky-blue pi, to the earth a yellow t’sung, to the east a green kuei, to the south a red ch’ang, to the west a white hu, to the north a black huang”. (www.cedarseed.com)

Particularly rare and important are the human figures, it would seem that as a rule only gods and immortals were considered worthy of figurative representation. Fat book.

Insect motifs were favoured by the jade working shamans of the Hongshan culture. The common themes of cicada pupa and silkworm chrysalis indicate a fascination with the mysterious power of transformation in the late stages preceding metamorphosis, Shamans may have hoped that by wearing these pendants they could gain access to the mysteries of life’s transformation.

The most distinctive feature of Hongshan jades is the appearance of abstract images suc as the C-shaped dragon, the ‘pig-dragon’, hooked-could pendants, toothed-mask pendants, and ‘monster figures’ among others. (catalogue) The pig dragon bears a resemblance to mammals in their embryonic state and it may follow that, like the cicada pupa and the silkworm chrysalis, they symbolize the endless regeneration of like perhaps a primordial vital force (yuanqi).


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