Essay on The Craft of Using Jade in China

Essay on The Craft of Using Jade in China

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From the prehistoric period, due to its luminous translucency and tough quality, jade was deemed precious. Hence, in China it had a sacrosanct position and was predominantly carved for decorative and ritual purposes, rather than for utilitarian uses. Among the Chinese jade cultures in the Neolithic period, the Hongshan culture, located in an extensive area ranging from Inner Mongolia to western Liaoning province, marked the heyday. This northeastern Neolithic culture with distinctive features in jade craft gave birth to coiled dragons. Before being transmitted to the Shang period, the coiled dragon was exclusive to the Hongshan culture. Made for ceremonial purposes, the coiled dragons also had links to the cult of fertility because of its fetal posture. The suspension hole in coiled dragons also suggests their ornamental usage.
Coiled dragons, as their name indicates, have a tapering coiled tail that abuts the jaw of the dragon. There are consistent and abundant evidence of the Hongshan coiled dragons with looped tails that create a short, thick body curl (Figures. 1, 2, and 3). Such a trait creates an oval shape rather than a circular one, hence an asymmetrical profile. While an acuminating coiled tail of Object B makes the whole shape oval, Object A has a blunt round shape, especially in the lower part because its tail does not curl in. Moreover, because of jade’s toughness, tools and abrasive sand used during the Neolithic period wear out while carving, which makes it impossible to ground a straight slit that Object A has. While making a slit, possibly using a slender tool like a leather strap, the adjoining part also becomes abraded, making it difficult, if not impossible, to ground a straight cut. However, unlike...

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Fang, Jianneng. 史前琢玉工艺技术shi qian zhuo yu gong yi ji shu. Taipei: National Taiwan Musuem, 2003.

“Jade coiled dragon”. British Museum. Accessed March 12, 2014, from
Li, Xiangyun. Xiangyun Xuan Guyu Shoucang Yu Yanjiu (Xiangyun Xuan Antique Jade Collection and Research). Beijing: Wenwu, 2004.

Rawson, Jessica. Chinese Jade from the Neolithic to the Qing. London: The British Museum Press, 1995.

Yang Yang. “The Chinese Jade Culture.” In Mysteries of Ancient China: New Discoveries from the Early Dynasties, edited by Jessica Rawson. New York: George Braziller, 1996.

Zhejiang sheng wenwu kaogu yanjiu suo et al., ed. Liangzhu wenhua yuqi. Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1990.

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