Jade

S. Blondel, in his monograph “Le Jade,” from which the following pages have been condensed, says :

“Jade (Chinese, Yu), very common in India and China, varies in color from oily white to dark olive green, depending on the amount of oxides of iron and of chrome which enter into its composition. Of all stones it is the hardest and heaviest, being fine-grained and compact in texture. It takes a fair polish, but always preserves an oily appearance both to the eye and to the touch.

Although its ordinary shades are green of many gradations, its classical color is a milky white, almost opalescent; when of this color, its limpidity, its fine texture and hardness, so great that it almost eludes the hand of the workman, render it desirable to be fashioned into pieces of great value. Pale green is likewise selected to shape into vases of all forms, especially such as are to be ornamented with elegant reliefs ; it has a uniform and agreeable tint and a close, fine grain susceptible of a high polish. Other greens, darker and duller, marked with molecular freaks and clouds, are reserved for vases of large dimensions and for bracelets. Black jade, also highly appreciated, is sometimes of a solid color, sometimes cloudy, and some specimens recall the crystalline watering of galvanized iron.

In ancient times all travellers in the East have regarded jade as a variety of marble or agate, and many writers have confounded it with the celebrated Kasch stone or jasper. Orpheus, no doubt, alluded to jade when he wrote of jasper the color of springtime. The distinction between the two stones is quite modern, since in a scientific work about gems and stones published in 1647, nephritic jade is considered a jasper.

One of the principal deposits of jade is at Tai-Thong in the province of Shen-se, but the great supply comes from the City of Khotan, in the canton of Yarkande, ancient Chinese Turkestan.

From time immemorial the Chinese have prized jade especially. The Liki, or ‘ Memorial of Rites,’ a canonical book of the Celestial Empire, in which the Yu is compared to the subtle matter of the rainbow concreted and fixed under the form of a stone, gives a proof of their veneration for it.

The philosopher Confucius, who lived five hundred years before our era, explained to one of his disciples why this stone, endowed with exceptional qualities, had in the ancient times merited to become an object of meditation for the wise and a symbol of virtue. One day Tze-kun, the disciple of Confucius, questioned his divine master as follows : ` Might I ask why the wise men esteem the jade and set no store by the Huen stone? Is it because the jade is very rare and the huen very common?’ Confucius answered : ` It is not because there is a great abundance of huen that it has no price, nor is it because the jade is so rare that it is esteemed, but because from the earliest age wise men have compared jade to virtue. In their eyes its polish and its brilliancy represent virtue and humanity, and its perfect compactness and extreme hardness the safeguards of intelligence ; the angles of jade, which, seeming sharp, yet do not cut, represent justice; the little buttons of jade which hang from the hat or belt as if about to fall, represent ceremony and politeness ; the sound, pure, sustained and prolonged, which it gives forth when struck and which ceases suddenly, represents music; the impossibility for the bad shades to hide the beautiful or the beautiful the bad, represents loyalty ; the defects, under the surface, yet apparent, represent sincerity ; its lustre, like that of the rainbow, represents the firmament; its wonderful material, extracted from the mountains and the waters, represents the earth; cut into Knei or Chu, without other embellishment, it symbolizes virtue ; and the price at which all the world values it symbolizes truth.’

Modern Chinese share with their ancestors in the same passion for jade, and modern Chinese writers use its name figuratively whenever they wish to indicate something very white, very pure, very beautiful or perfect. One of their greatest poets, Li-thai-pe, writes : ` How long for us can last our possession of jade and gold? A hundred years at most is the term of our longest hope; to live and to die once, of that we are all assured.’

In a comedy entitled ` The Accomplished Soubrette,’ the beautiful Fan-sou makes a charming comparison whilst walking through a park with a friend to whom she recites the following verses : ` The willows shake their silken verdure, whence escape pearls of dew which fall like a rain of stars into this limpid pool. You would think them balls of jade thrown into a crystal fountain.’

In the period Siouan-no there was kept at the palace a standard collection for the shades of Yu, with which all pieces reaching the Emperor were compared. We find mention in the ‘ History of the Dynasty of the Tsongs,’ that in the year A. D. 965, the king of Yu-thian sent from Khotan his ambassadors, bearing as a tribute to the Emperor five hundred pieces of jade and five hundred pounds of yellow amber, and that this was a yearly tribute.

We also find that the city of Yarkande sends to Khotan each year to be forwarded to Pekin, four or six thousand kilograms of Yu, and in this ,,is not included the pieces so admirably cut and engraved by the Iapidaries of the ancient capital of Chinese Tartary, Aksou, nor by those of Kashgar and Yarkande, where working in jade forms the principal industry.

In a work entitled `The Notices of Khotan,’ we read, `Jade is hard and difficult to work, neither steel nor fire will attack it.’ The Abbe Grosier, in his remarkable work on China, also assures us that the tenacity of the fine jades is so very great that to work and polish them the same means are employed as for agate and the precious stones. The more difficult it is to cut the more brilliant is the polish it acquires. As many thousands of days’ work would not suffice to finish certain pieces, the workmen for the Emperor succeed each other without interruption in the workshop of the palace, and although they work night and day, it often requires nine or ten years to finish a single piece. The outlay for this labor joined to the expensive first cost of fine pieces, makes them when finished of enormous value. And yet this stone, so dearly bought, will break like glass if allowed to fall.

The process of working jade is thus described by Mr. Summer, a resident of Cambay : ` The stone gem is first fixed upon the steel axis of a lathe, reduced to a generally circular form and then polished, using for this a composition of gum lac and corundum. Vases and other objects are worked upon this lathe to suit the form desired, daries, a single object often representing the labor of a lifetime.

The high prices that jades command, even in China, have made a great demand for a kind of chalcedony, which the sharp merchants of Canton sell to strangers for genuine jade. There are two kinds : the first of a tender green color, brought from Yun-nan; its cost increases as its color is stronger and of a brighter apple green. The second, of a dark cloudy green, comes from Kansouh.

In a Persian manuscript in the National Library at Paris we read that the Yeschm (Persian for jade) of commerce is of two kinds, the one of mineral origin, the other a product of art. It seems impossible to distinguish the one from the other, wherefore, naively remarks the writer, no difference is made in their price ; indeed the public knows no distinction, which accounts for the exorbitant demands of merchants. Teng-youen-yang, a commentator of the ` Ritual of the Tcheous,’ who lived under the Mings, says: `The men of the people dampen the rice and mix hemp with the silk. The pedlar makes jade from other stones, and the local merchants turn new objects into old and sell old for new.’

The Arab Mohammed ibn Mansour’ assures us, and the first polish is given by rubbing upon stones suited to this purpose. The concavities are hollowed out with a countersink whose point is armed with a diamond, little holes are drilled about a quarter of an inch deep all over the surface, giving the appearance of a honeycomb, and then the partitions are broken away; this process is repeated until the required depth is obtained ; the final polish is given by the rapid motion of a mould, having the form in relief of the concavities, which is made to revolve in the stone or crystal to be polished ; these moulds are of the same composition as the polishing plaques used on the lathes.’

The most ancient objects made of jade are probably the musical instruments called ` Khing,’ or sonorous stones, guitars and flutes. Small objects of jade are worn attached to the hat and girdle, the form and proportions of which indicate the rank of the wearer. We also find mentioned objects of great size. Thus in a poem named `The Measures of Jade,’ it is related that Fan-tseng destroys with his sword two vessels of the precious stone, each of which held 1,200,000 grains of rice.

Probably the most interesting objects formed of jade are found upon the magnetic chariots invented, according to Chinese historians, by the Emperor Hoang-te, 2637 years before our era. These little chariots were attached to a strong magnetic needle, and a little figure of jade with outstretched arm was placed in the chariot and pointed always to the south.

To properly appreciate the great merit of objects carved in jade, we must remember the hard and tenacious quality of its grain, which yields only to the attacks of the diamond and of emery, and must recall both the labor and the time devoted to their fashioning by the Chinese lapidaries, a single object often representing the labor of a lifetime.

The high prices that jades command, even in China, have made a great demand for a kind of chalcedony, which the sharp merchants of Canton sell to strangers for genuine jade. There are two kinds : the first of a tender green color, brought from Yun-nan; its cost increases as its color is stronger and of a brighter apple green. The second, of a dark cloudy green, comes from Kansouh.

In a Persian manuscript in the National Library at Paris we read that the Yeschm (Persian for jade) of commerce is of two kinds, the one of mineral origin, the other a product of art. It seems impossible to distinguish the one from the other, wherefore, naively remarks the writer, no difference is made in their price ; indeed the public knows no distinction, which accounts for the exorbitant demands of merchants. Teng-youen-yang, a commentator of the `Ritual of the Tcheous,’ who lived under the Mings, says : `The men of the people dampen the rice and mix hemp with the silk. The pedlar makes jade from other stones, and the local merchants turn new objects into old and sell old for new.’

The Arab `Mohammed ibn Mansour,’ assures us, in his work on precious stones, that in China they make an imitation of jade which has a smoky odor, and that if a vase of jade be broken they mend it with artificial pieces which cannot be distinguished from the natural. And Teifaschi says artificial yeschm is made in China from a combination of several materials, and then further relates his own happy efforts at its production in the `Land of the Pharaohs.

As for the pretended jade of Europe, America and Oceanica, known as jadeite and nephritic jade, they are simply inferior varieties of feldspar, under which name they have been classed by Hauy. They are generally of a dark cloudy green. The so-called white jades of Europe are found in Turkey, Poland and Switzerland.

These details will suffice, we think, to forearm amateurs against the frauds which both in the East and the West are becoming so prevalent in all industries.”