Thursday, 4 December 2014


Unlike most methods of carving stones, Jade being approximately hardness 6.5-7 on MOHS scale is worked differently.

If you thought chisels and hammers, then you would be very wrong. Even the hardest chisels from the toughest flints, just broke.

I bet you haven't really considered how the ancient chinese mastered the art of Jade carving to the point where the inanimate objects became highly elaborate works of art?

Jade carving was done with sand and water and string.  Jade carving had to be worked by sawing, drilling or grinding down using abrasive materials and bamboo to drill.

Nowadays of course Jade carving is done very differently with Diamond drills.

John Wenti Chang explains the folklore of the Celestial Kingdom :

A workman who found this strange new stone, hard, heavy and closely grained.  It appeared as if it would be fit to work, however after days of diligence he failed to dislodge the smallest flake, only succeeding in breaking his chisels.

The distressed workman consulted the Chieftain, who was well known for his wisdom and intelligence. 

The Chieftain considered the broken tools and the new stone and said “It is evident this material is harder than any other that God of Earth has given us and we have nothing hard enough to chip it.

However, we can see how the God of the River has worked it for his use.  With water and sand he has worn it round.  Do then take water and sand and work it the same.”

Water, Sand and a Piece of String

Although, we don’t know exactly how jade was initially cut, we hazard a good guess.  Ironically, jade, the world’s toughest stone, can be cut with water, sand, and a piece of string.  The sand and water cover the stone as abrasives, then the  string is used like a saw back and forth across the top.  In exactly the same method, holes are drilled using bamboo.

Jade Carving was by no means a quick cutting method, wire and abrasives used from around 500BC weren’t either, which is still used to the present day.

It is no wonder it required exceptional patience Jade carving as the craftsman could spend years on just one carving.  Maybe the Jade carver craftsman’s addiction to optimism was which gave birth to the  most persistent of the carving myths – the Chinese Excalibur.

Pictured here is Jade Carving being done with the use of diamond drills and water to carve the Jade Happiness Ball.

Sunday, 16 November 2014


The Emperor Shi Huangdi was responsible for the construction of the entombed warriors, which were found while workers were excavating for a well.  They notified the Chinese authorities who sent a team of archaeologists to the site where they began the laborious task of unearthing, not one, but thousands of life size soldiers, horses and carts.  Each warrior with different facial expressions and placed according to their rank. Although grey today, remnants of colour are still seen on some of the soldiers.  The terra-cotta army as it was known was part of an elaborate mausoleum which was created to accompany the first emperor into the afterlife.

Over time archaeologists excavating further have revealed swords, arrow tips, and other weapons, many in pristine condition.

The soldiers are all in trench like, underground corridors. In which were found clay horses, aligned four abreast; behind them are wooden chariots. After Shi Huangdi took rule he ordered 700000 workers to commence work on the mausoleum and all the figures. 

Archaeogists estimate there are over 8000 statues in 3 pits, however the 4th pit lies empty due to the fall of the empire, so the entire army was not fully completed.

Exhibitions have been scheduled globally in many countries for everyone to get a glimpse of the enormity and scale of the terra-cotta army.  I was fortunate to see this exhibition in Sydney 2 years ago when it was on display at the Sydney Art Gallery. 



Even as far back as neolithic times, nephrite Jade was worked within the regions of Khotan and its neighbour Yarkand which is in the far western region of Chinese territory.

 God of Longevity
The material was transported great distances over mountains and around the Taklamakan desert to centres in China where they worked Jade.

A radius of several thousand kilometres encompassed those regions where nephrite Jade was worked. Jade from Khotan, nephrite Jade is thought to have originated in the late Shang period, which is remarkable, considering Jade was far more precious than gold to its people, was actually found outside the Great Wall and China proper yet the Chinese sought no control of this region.
Nomadic tribes occupied the western region and trade routes which connect to China were hostile and considered barbaric to the Chinese.  As these tribes were nomadic in nature, there were frequent and violent eruptions between them and the Chinese, therefore there were often interruption to the supply form Khotan and Yarkand through the Jade Gate or Yumen at the far western end of the Great Wall.
Although pre-Han historical records mention virtually nothing of the raw jade, it is supported by archaeological evidence that raw jade from here was transported pre 1000BC.

In the tomb of Lady Fu Hao (c.1400BC) there bears an inscription on Shang oracle bones which record collecting jades and 
levying jades and a jade halberd which bears the inscription stating it was a tribute to the king of Shang for Lu, a country showing allegiance to Shang's kingdom but whose location is unknown.

The routes to China from the regions of Khotan and Yarkand were often interupted since the beginning of the Han Dynasty when Xiongnu a nomadic tribe controlled the routes and dominated this region a two way tribute system, that is a 2 way trade which would have included jade, between the Chinese and the Xiongnu.

Han Dynasty Jade & Bronze Sword
When Jihchu and Hanyei, 2 chiefs of the Xiongnu surrendered to the Han, Han dominance became established across Central Asia becoming firmly established.
An administrative officer named the Protector General of the Western Frontier and the Chinese garrisons, were sent by the Han judiciary to control the area and in return led to plentiful supply of raw Jade throughout the remainder of the Western Han Dynasty.

Unfortunately, this period was short lived after a civil war at the end of the Western Han. This was called the Wang and Mang Interregnum. When Xiongnu split into 2 polities, the Northern and Southern Xiongnu in 48AD the Han dominance was reestablished with the Southern Xiongnu surrendering and subsequently the North Xiongnu withdrawing to the northwest even though continued to challenge the Eastern Han dynasty for control of the western regions.

From around 73AD until the collapse of the Eastern Han in 220AD, Khotan and Yarkand trade routes remained open and the raw jade remained in plentiful supply.

Very little jade entered China after  the collapse of the Eastern Han dynasty due to the unsettled time during the period of the Wei, Jin, Northern & Southern dynasties including the Six Dynasties era while Chinese rulers put all their energy into maintaining their realms and the new Buddhism religion.

China was reunified under the Sui and Tang dynasties

encouraging trade with the rest of Asia enabling a plentiful supply of raw jade from the Khotan and Yarkand regions reentering the Chinese market.

A very famous Imperial concubine, the Jade beauty, is purported to have a bed made of Jade, wore only jade ornaments and completely surrounded herself with items made only from jade.

Around this time a law was made forbidding inferior jades for funerary purposes, which would have meant little had jade not been easily accessed.

With a large number of foreigners living in China during the Sui and Tang dynasties, their influence on art has been well attested due to the number of artefacts of all kinds.  Foreigners held gold and silver as the highest luxury, resulting in the Tang court and nobles during the 8th-10th century producing more gold and silver than during any other period in history, eclipsing jade therefore fewer jade items were produced due to the popularity of gold and silver.

In the 8th century, Islam spread through the Khotan and Yarkand regions when the Turkic tribes were converted.
Religious persecutions in China in 845 to 850 resulted in the virtual suspension of raw jade supply into China.  Historical data attest the disruption had a massive effect on the supply and price of raw jade.

In the exhibition at The Museum of East Asian Art, there are jades of a distinctive dull brownish-grey colour, sometimes with reddish veins, which appear to date to late Tang dynasty on the basis of their style or decoration, but which could be assigned to the period from 845-850 as it is hard to imagine dull, poor quality material being used at a time when quality jade was in pleniful supply as seems to be the case prior to 845 and definitely post 950.

James Watt in February 1981, at a jade siminar in Detroit stated that Song historical records mention that 
(i) in 951 the price of the best quality lychee-flesh white jade fell to a third its former value due to over supply.  The glut causing the middle men to be eliminated from the trade routes at that time 
Tang Pottery War Horse & rider
(ii) Oversupply continued until around 1028 when trade was disrupted by disturbances cased by the Xi Xia in China's north western border regions through which the trade routes ran 
(iii) It appears from historical records - little Jade entered China from 1028 to 1077 when it is recorded the trade roues reopened. 
(iv) Once they reopened, it seems there was a problem sourcing the preferred lychee-flesh white, and the jade which 1st entered China was described as having brown flecks.

Raw Jade was available during the rest of the Song dynasty, however there was a problem with the quality.



One extremely important event in China's history was the unification by the king of Qin State. Although quite short-lived this dynasty implemented landmark reforms which established a model for China which was used for centuries. 

The Zhou had lost the last of their power by 256BC and were no longer influential. 

The states of China before unification

There were Seven states which were key players in the fight for power.  The Shang and Zhou - the most powerful in the northern regions the latter weakening around 500 BC when they fell into a period of chaos and war as each tried to assert its power and during which period they were invaded by nomadic tribes from the north of China understanding the disharmony among the states.

The other key players were the Han, the Chao, the Wei, the Ch'u, the Yen, the Ch'i and the Qin. The main ones being the Ch'i and the Qin. However, it was the Qin that emerged victorious of the warring states and ultimately  it was the king of the Qin who united all the states and become supreme ruler.

Qin was located near the Wei River in the west and between 328 and 308BC, assumed control over the northern and northwestern states gradually bring the other states under the control.
Qin's then philosophy of Legalism was in favour of a centrally governed state.

Unification of The Warring states began 221BC, not as historian’s originally believed at 256BC.  The most powerful state in China from 256BC was the Qin Dynasty. 

After the fall of the Zhou in 246BC, power was handed to Ying Zheng who was a 13 year old boy.

Advisers counselled Ying Zheng, one of whom was Li Su who was one of the founders of Legalism and who assisted in the unification of the states. Ying Zheng’s advisers advised him to unite the states in 232BC.  Because many of the states were weak they could not fight the military of Qin’s military.  Qin’s military was quite a power therefore the northern states were easily overthrown by the might of Qin’s military.


By 221BC Ying Zheng had conquered the northern states proclaiming himself as the First Emperor naming himself Shi

Huangdi.  Aided by his advisers Shi Hungdi began a system of rule and governance which was followed by subsequent Chinese dynasties.  This system placed the heads of state at the centre with other administrative levels branching into the newly created provinces.

Qin’s reforms included better roads and agriculture and introduced one currency as well as a consolidating their current systems of law and writing.  The laws were strict with regard governing and anyone found to be corrupt was executed.  A bureaucratic system was endorsed from the previous feudal system with a strict hierarchy making land available to peasants which had been taken from feudal nobles.

Legalism had been already been put in place prior to the unification.  The principles on which the Qin ran and unified their kingdom were based on their belief that people were base and selfish and therefore needed to be strictly controlled and disciplined.

Shi Huangdi abolished local customs aiming to minimise the various languages so a central system could be adopted and understood by all Qin’s citizens.  Shi Huangdi was a brutal and cruel ruler.  Standards weights and measures were introduced in the Qin to assist centralise and unite the states.  

The First Emperor ordered the burning of all books and private libraries which included teachings not in line with his government including those of Confucius. He did this to destroy any thought from his people to establish their own ideas which may have led to rebellion.  Those who tried to protect their libraries were executed.  This action by Shi Huangdi was a devastating loss to Chinese culture as most of the early teachings, records and philosophies were destroyed.

The Qin then sought to take control of the territories in the southern regions after putting these reforms into place. Shi Huangdi had a great many enemies with nomadic tribes being a threat in the north.  

It is believed thousands of ruling families had been overthrown by the Qin and who opposed Shi Huangdi’s rule and were furious that he had taken so much of their land and handing it to his nobles.


In 210BC after the First Emporer died, his son assumed the Qin Dynasty thrown.

After Shi Huangdi’s death a rebellion took place.  Due to the Qin’s oppressive rule many citizens were unhappy with the legalist governance and the prince of the Han overthrew Shi Huangdi’s son in battle to establish the Han dynasty.

Within 4 years of the First Emperor’s death, the Qin Dynasty had fallen and although short lived it was an extremely significant period during China’s history.

The period of the Qin Dynasty pronounced “CHIN” left a lasting legacy, and although short-lived the legacy of the Qin Dynasty, was that of the modern day country of China, as it was from Qin that China has taken the name.  In 1976 some workers digging for a well unearthed one of the greatest discoveries of modern times, by unearthing a clay soldier - another legacy of the Qin Dynasty and The First Emperor - Shi Huangdi, that being The Terra-Cotta Army.  More of this in my post title the Terra-cotta army.

Thursday, 2 October 2014


With book production the amount of archaeological finds and historical art, information has grown significantly with illustrated volumes and thus given us a better understanding and appreciation of nature and new discoveries in China.

The conclusion has emerged that there are problems with regard the identification and classification of Ancient Jade compared to Jades of recent centuries.

In recent times these been nothing less than sensational in scale and importance.  The revelation is that they bring on highly advanced ancient, neolithic cultures which are now identified at sites across China which constitutes some of the the most significant archaelogical finds ever seen in Asia.

Some of these cultures date back to 5500BC. Modern scientific methods have established the existence of various jades showing originality and extremely advanced workmanship, which contradicts previous ideas about ancient Chinese culture.

Some aspects of Chinese culture have been reviewed and rewritten.  It is beyond doubt that a range of familiar forms, skills and methods are of more ancient antiquity than were originally thought.

"The Age of Jade" which scholars speak of, preceded and in ways heralded and inspired the coming of the "Bronze Age" and is also referred to asAarchaic Jade.

Every year brings forth fresh discoveries and detailed studies of this ancient jade which has become a preoccupation for many.

If you are serious about or have an interest in Archaic Jade you will be eager to see various exhibitions around the globe.

Jades of the later centuries have not been illuminated to such bright effects by archaeologists, understandably, in times when burial customs and beliefs no longer imposed a need to bury Archaic Jade in tombs.

Because Jade is so hard, little change occurs on the surface even over centuries.

To date there is no scientific method, such as carbon-14 dating or thermoluminescence dating, which assist determine age within a few centuries on most objects other than Jade.

The lack of records in the past have made it more difficult, however, however, there have been several important caches published in the last 30-40 years, notably those of Lady Fu Hao (c1400BC) and the king of Nanye (122BC), published in the past 30 years which have thrown light on the Shang to Han period.  Dating of objects of ancient jade from these dynasties, is now better understood.

Due to the lack of excavations post Han Dy of ancient Jade objects which are a more valuable material than other media, it might well have been misleading that the styles may have served as prototypes of some other objects of different compounds. both of these pictures are of Jade from my private collection, and demonstrate the style of ancient jade objects from the Han period.
There have been several exhibitions held in the past 40 years in which jades from Han to Qing periods were exhibited.  These exhibitions including the Oriental Cetamic Sciety's Jade Exhibiton, Longdon 1975; the Asia Society's Exhbition Chinee Jade from Han to Qing, New York 1980 and the Min Chiu Society's Chinese Jade Carving Exchibition, Hong Kong in 1983 have enhanced knowledge of later jades and formed the basis for their dating although a wider limit on these dates should be made.

Recent exccavation have bought to light neolithic cultures, such as Songze, Hongshan and Liangzhu, which were previously unknown or unrecognised.

Few believed jade was even worked in Ancient times however this theory has now been discounted.

Information attained has been sourced form the text of "Jades of Chine" for The Museium of East Asian Art, Bath England and written by Angus Forsyth and Brian McElney

Pictures being uploaded to this Blog have been sourced from this catalogue and my own private collection.

Angus Forsyth was president of the Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong.  He has written extensively on archaic jade in relation to Chinese neolithic, Shang and Zhou Dynasties. He has studied and handled volumes of jade and he refer to the most recent archaeological discoveries of jade and bronze so his work contains the most up to date information.

Brian McElney, previously a Hong Kong Lawyer with his own private collection, has donated most of it to the Museum of East Asian Art in Bath, which he founded in 1993 and is now Honorary Curator and member of Min Chiu Society and the Oriental Ceramic Society. With John Ayers, he is one of the Advisers to the Hong Kong Museum of Art was President of the Oriental Cetamic Society of Hong Kong as well as being on the committee of management of the Fung Ping Shan Museum of Hong Kong.  Brian has written important articles on Chinese jade and other Chinese art.
The archaeological discoveries at Xi'an, known as the Terracotta Warriors and attributed Emperior Qin, were discovered in 1974 making them one of the major archaeological discoveries of our modern era. More on these archaeological discoveries will be documented in another blog post.
As a lover and collector of fine Jade myself, I take pride in the information I source from reputable literary manuals and text books.
If you are interested in archaeological discoveries keep your eyes on my blob posts.