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An Overview of the Finest Ancient Chinese Jade Foreword

@@China is the only country that first used jade for various applications of ordinary vessels in the world. It is discovered that those excavations can be dated back to the pre-historic era, which was over 7,000 years ago. Along with the progress of archeological tasks, a great amount of ancient jade relics left by our ancestors has been continuously excavated for decades. From the excavation reports, we can be positive to say that jade is the earliest material applied by our forefathers as vessels among other antiques, curios or cultural relics in China, compared with bronze, pottery or porcelain. We can also surmise that popularity of jade articles differs from one dynasty to another according to the great number of excavated jade articles. This situation is just like modern people prefer jewelry and jadeite (green jade) to jade. Besides, popular curios are not the same in every dynasty, either. For example, excavated jade articles have the greatest amount during the period from the Warring States to West Han dynasty and the carvings (engravings) are the most delicate as well, which serves as a proof that jade articles are very popular during those eras. After the West Han era, jade becomes less and less popular since fewer jade articles are excavated and less delicate jade articles have ever been discovered.

@@There is a huge volume of books on ancient jade at present; however, some experts and scholars describe ancient jade as a supernatural holy grail before obtaining an in-depth understanding of jade. Based on those tremendous amounts of excavated ancient jade articles for recent decades, opinions of these experts and scholars on ancient jade articles should be modified to the greatest extent to avoid misleading readers incessantly. For instance, they consider the value of jade was equal to or ever above that of gold in ancient times, which is totally a subjective and arbitrary opinion, but not including those jades with extraordinary carvings and fine quality. As a matter of fact, the number of excavated jade articles is hundreds and thousands of times more than that of gold. It goes without saying that the value of gold is definitely beyond that of jade in compliance with the principle of less being precious. Another example is the historically famous Ho Shih Jade. It is said that the king of the Chin dynasty would rather exchange it with 15 cities, which is a completely make-up story. There are all kinds of voices in determining the shape of Ho Shih Jade even till now. Some say it is a white jade with the diameter of 40-50 centimeters, while others say it is a heirloom imperial jade seal. No unanimous conclusion has been reached so far. To tell the truth, jade was not such a precious curio at that time that people would rather exchange it with cities. It is nothing but a fiction made up by those writers and scholars incorrectly relaying an erroneous message.

@@Why should I say that Ho Shih Jade is a make-up? As we know there should be some certain huge jades unearthed recently with a diameter of above 150 centimeters and weight of 110 kilograms more. There are also gold engraving patterns on them, which is not only beautiful and magnificent, but also amazing. However, they have never appeared on historic records. This kind of huge jade amounts to more than ten in the country. So, can the Ho Shih Jade with a diameter of mere 40-50 centimeters count for anything? A king should exchange it with cities? Another example often mentioned in some of the writings of these experts and scholars is the Octagonal Jade Piece of Liang Che Culture, which has the longest length of 49 centimeters and is exhibited in the Great Britain Museum at the moment. The National Palace Museum has the Octagonal Jade Piece of Liang Ching Culture with a length of 47 centimeters and ranks No. 3 in the world. Nevertheless, I have seen octagonal jade pieces of Liang Che Culture with a length of more than 140 centimeters and there are over five of them in the country as well. Some other experts also talk about the golden clothes in their books. They compare the price of making a golden suit in the West Han era to that of building a highway, which is absolutely ridiculous. For the number of golden suits within the country exceed 50 at the least for the present. As a result, they are not so precious as people might imagine.

@@In a word, I sincerely hope that those experts and scholars can give more objective comments to ancient jade articles from now on, instead of expressing personal and exclusive opinions to misguide readers. It is because anything could be possible when it comes to unearthed objects. I would like to reiterate that I do not depreciate the value of ancient jades on purpose. Rather, my evaluation is in compliance with the number of excavated jade articles and its value in old times should not influence that at present time. Work pieces of ancient jades should emphasize their artistry. And artistic value cannot be measured and is totally up to the decision of people's judgment at that time.

@@This book stresses the process from knowing to appraisal of ancient jade in particular and the most important thing is to look at actual objects as often as possible. This book has a rich content with more than 1,500 real pictures and those repeated portions of the same kind provide an opportunity for the readers for more comparisons and exercises, which is a truly excellent reference book for entering the world of ancient jades. Critical procedures of appraising ancient jades are: 1. Style (Modeling) 2. Pattern 3. Engraving technique and 4. Type of jade. Followings are respective descriptions.

  1. Style/Modeling: Every dynasty has its own popular characteristics. Basically to say, it is from simplicity to sophistication. The earlier the era, the simpler the styling and the later the era, the more the modeling, which is an unchanged fact and needs to make comparisons for verification from the practical examples listed in this book.
  2. Pattern: It refers to those patterns carved upon the surface of jade articles. Popular patterns differ from one dynasty to another. For instance, the surface patterns with the figures of gods, human beings and beast are popular during Liang Che Culture, bird patterns in Shang and Chou dynasties, and integral patterns of dragons and phoenixes in the West Han era of the Warring States period, etc.
  3. Engraving techniques: As jade artisans use different tools, features of their works are different. For example, every piece of jade articles is carved and polished with a round tooling during the Red Mountain Culture era, whose identical characteristic is apparent. The lines are on and off during the Liang Che Culture period as the tools used for engraving are extremely sharp and thin. Other individual engraving techniques and features are like the double-ditch line in Shang dynasty, slant carving style in Chou dynasty and relief engraving in Chun Chiu period, etc.
  4. Type of jade: The kind and color of jade is not the same either in every dynasty, such as white jade, yellow jade and green jade, etc. It is due to the so-called cultural stratums termed by geologists. Depth of the stratums will result in different soils, which produce various colors of jades and stones. Readers can make comparisons from the actual examples listed in the book.

@@Briefly, this book emphasizes that the only tip to appreciate ancient jades is through real pictures as well as more comparisons and exercises as often as possible. As this book collects more than 1,500 pictures, which surpasses all writings on ancient jades in the bookshops currently by far, readers should be able to stand in the line of appraising ancient jades easily through this book.

Author Tsai Wen Hsiung

at Liao Ning Street, Taipei

January, 2000

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