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Transforming jade from stone to culture > Jade in ancient China > Transforming jade from stone to culture  |  Print  |  E-mail a friend
Minerals are turned into culture when they are cut and polished for some kind of use. Depending on the culture and the historic period, the use and combined meaning vary from simple adornment like jewellery and magic amulets, to decorations like sculptures symbolising wealth, ordinary utensils like vessels and cups, and ceremonial items.

The quality of jade has been associated with human virtues in everyday life since the 2nd century. This we recognize from expressions like “jade face”, which was the term the Chinese used to praise a woman’s beauty. “Jade heart” meant a heart that had integrity. Furthermore, jade was thought to possess the essence of the strength of mountains.

By attributing human virtues to the stone, the use of jade became a way to visualize and legitimise social hierarchy. In the late Shang Period (15th – 10th century BC) jade pectorals were extremely popular at court. In Pindingshan in Henan Province, a breast piece from the Western Zhou period is on display at the Institute of Archaeology and Culture, which features a jade, agate and turquoise chain attached with serpentine dragons to a trapezoidal jade plate.

Its purpose was presumably to protect the aristocratic wearer against evil forces. This would correspond to medical practice at the time of the Chu Emperors (until 700 BC) and reflects how hierarchy, symbol and magic were combined with jade.

The picture above shows a breast piece with jade, agate and turquoise from the Western Zhou period, belonging to a nobleman before 700 BC. It is on display in the Institute of Archaeology and Culture, Pindingshan, Henan Province.

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