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jade - Yü in Chinese, is a general term for numerous semiprecious gemstones, including nephrite (also called greenstone) and jadeite (a member of the tremolite-actinolite family of minerals), obtained as a pebble or boulder in greens and white, along with agate, onyx, serpentine, amber, and lapis lazuli. Extremely hard, it is worked with abrasives to form sculpture and ornaments, usually small in size, especially in China. During the Neolithic period primitive people almost universally used stone tools and carved decorative objects of jadelike stone. Only the Chinese, however, developed a long tradition of jade work. Other peoples stopped using the material after the Stone Age. Since Jade cannot be cut by metal, the carving process has mainly been that of abrasion. The original tools were probably slabs of sandstone and wetted abrasive sands made from crushed quartz, garnet, and corundum. Refinements in cutting, carving, drilling, and polishing techniques were developed gradually over time. Since jade working has always been laborious, requiring tremendous skill, jade objects were used for ceremonial, burial, court status, and other decorative purposes. They were rarely used as functional objects.




see thumbnail to rightChina, Jiangsu or Zhejiang province, Ritual object (Bi), Neolithic period, Liangzhu culture, c. 2700-2200 BCE, jade (nephrite), diameter 8 3/8 inches (21.3 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. See Chinese art and Stone Age.



see thumbnail to leftChina, Dancer-Shaped Pei Pendants, Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 25 CE), white jade, 4.6 x 2.5 cm, Henan Museum, China. Unearthed at Yongcheng, Henan. This pair of pei pendants is carved in openwork and engraved lines. See dance and Han.



China, Jade Costume Sewn with Gold Wire, Western Han dynasty (206 BCE - 25 CE), 180 x 125 cm, Henan Museum, China. Unearthed at Yongcheng, Henan. Jade suits were the burial clothes of emperors and high-ranking nobles of the Han dynasty. They were made by tying jade pieces together with gold or silver or copper wire, according to the nobile ranking of the dead. This example was the burial suit of King Liang of the royal family of the Western Han dynasty. It is made up of 2008 pieces of jade sewn together with gold wire. It is composed of the head cover, face cover, upper garment, sleeves, gloves, trousers and foot covers. See costume.



see thumbnail to rightMexico, Central Highlands, Teotihuacan peoples, Standing Figure, 7th-mid 8th century, greenstone (jade), remnants of cinnabar, height 16 1/8 inches (41 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. See Pre-Columbian art.





see thumbnail to leftChina, Table Decoration, 18th century, nephrite (jade), wood, height 10.8 cm, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.







Also see celadon, Mohs Scale of Hardness, and suiseki.



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