Mon, Feb 18, 2019 - Page 9 News List


Neolithic cong, Liangzhu Culture.

Photo courtesy of National Palace Museum,Taipei

Chinese Practice


(xia2 bu4 yan3 yu2)

a blemish does not obscure jade’s luster







(Much research went into this movie’s script, costumes and props. Despite a number of minor anachronisms, the movie was generally well received.)


(Your exam results are not perfect, but they’re good enough. You lost marks with mistakes in the math section, but you did really well in the other subjects.)


the pros outweigh the cons

Jade has been used and prized in Chinese culture going all the way back to Neolithic times, and has been accorded the same kind of admiration and value given to gold and precious stones elsewhere. Sometimes, the stone has an unctuous, glossy quality, white and flawless — referred to as “mutton fat” jade; at others, it can be a visual feast of subtle transitions in color, interspersed with solid inclusions and chemical “flaws” at varying depths below the surface that only enhance its beauty and interest.

In the Neolithic Hongshan culture of NE China, around present day Liaoning Province, nephritic jade was used to make ritual objects and jewelry reserved for only the higher echelons of society, the hardness of the material making it extremely difficult to work; in the Neolithic Liangzhu culture, around present day Shanghai, it was used for ritual objects such as the bi disc — thought to represent the sky — and the cong tube, a cylinder with a round interior and square exterior, thought to represent the earth. Both bi and cong were used in ritual burials, and their form has persisted in Chinese crafts and arts ever since. In the Eastern Zhou, Confucius and his followers respected the stone for its qualities, and how these represented the admirable characteristics of the idealized Confucian gentleman.

In the pin yi chapter of the liji (Book of Rites), a collection of texts describing the social norms, administration, and ceremonial rites of the Zhou dynasty, we find a discussion between Zi Gong and Confucius himself on why jade is valued so much. Confucius says that rarity does not come into it; its value derives from its qualities, and what the stone symbolized to the ancients: “Soft, smooth, and glossy, it appeared to them like benevolence; fine, compact, and strong: like intelligence; angular, though neither sharp nor cutting: like righteousness; hanging down (in beads) as if it would fall to the ground: like (the humility of) propriety; when it was struck, it would yield a note clear and prolonged, yet terminating abruptly: like music; its flaws did not conceal its beauty; nor its beauty its flaws (瑕不掩瑜,瑜不掩瑕): as with loyalty; its internal radiance emanating on every side like good faith; yet it is bright as a rainbow, like heaven; exquisite and mysterious, appearing in the hills and streams, it is like the earth; standing out conspicuous in the symbols of rank, it is like virtue; jade is esteemed by all under the sky, like the path of truth and duty.”

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