Jade has been cherished by the Chinese as a symbol of man virtues. Its hardness suggests firmness and loyalty, and its luster projects purity and beauty. Typical subjects are carvings of flowers, animals, vases, and human figures.
In the Neolithic Age, when people gradually recognized colored stone similar to jade in choosing stone for making implements, they used such stone to make implements, ornaments and sacrificial offerings. The colored stone turned items can be called the embryonic form of jade artworks, which can be traced back to the Hemudu Culture in
Generally, the procedure of jade carving includes jade observation, designing, opening, piercing, cutting and polishing. Tang Rongzuo, a collector in the late Qing Dynasty, once wrote a book entitled Of Jade in which the working procedure, methods and implements in carving jade ware are illustrated with twelve color drawings. As viewed from the perspective of craft, a jade artwork with superb workmanship excelling nature is not made by carvin, but by grinding with water using minerals such as emery, silicon, garnet, etc. that are harder than jade. Therefore the process of jade making is called jade rolling or jade grinding. While the skills in grinding jade are superb, the tools used are simple and crude. The primitive implement used is simply a revolving round disk called tuo (emery wheel), which is used to move emery which rubs, smoothes and polished jade. During he Neolithic Age and the Bronze Age when ironware was not yet been invented, tools used were largely made from wood, bamboo, animal bone compounded with sandstone. Until the modern times, Chinese people always used traditional tools in the manufacture of jade artworks such as wire saw, round disc made of steel and wrought iron, etc.
Jade caring was highly developed in the Han and Tang dynasties. Funerary jade was the most typical of the Han jade articles. It was made in the belief that the jade would keep the body from decaying, funerary jade articles include jade apparel, nine orifice stopper, etc. The jade apparel was divided into gold inlaid, silver inlaid and copper inlaid prepared in the light of the identity and official title of the dead. The nine orifice stopper was used to cover the nine orifices of the eats, eyes, mouth, nostrils, anus and genital in the hope that the body would not dacay as the vital energy was preserved by the orifice stoppers. As regards jade articles for ornament, jade galloping steeds, jade beats, jade eagles, and jade bi xie (a legenday holy beast, looking like a lion, with two wings, said to drive out evil things), were manufactured in the Han Dynasty. These artworks were practical in shape, exquisite in workmanship, and unconstrained in style. The Tang Dynasty jade artworks, affected by painting, sculpture, and the art of the Western Region, were represented by the eight petal pattern jade cup and animal mask agate cup, in a style dignified and stately, full of Western Region flavor.
Circumstances change with the passage of time, from the Song-Liao-Jin period the function of jade objects as sacrificial vessels was weakened, and instead, jade artworks close to practical life, some for ornaments and some for daily appreciation dominated with the prosperity of urban economy. In the Song Dynasty, the “qiao se” (wise use of color) process was initiated by which arious objects extremely refined could be carved in the light of the natural luster and color of the jade material, and its texture and shape.
The Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties were the heyday of jade carving. Du Shan Yu Hai (extra large jade bowl of Dushan) and Da Yu Zhi Shui Yu Shan (