Jade is the common name for nephrite, a mineral that symbolised purity in ancient Chinese mythology. To the ancient Chinese, jade was more valuable than any other stone or metal – even gold. Although jade is generally thought of as pale green, there are actually over 100 types. Red jade is the rarest.
Jade was used to make many things, from jewellery to sculptures and from official seals to bowls. It was thought to provide protection; a piece might be worn by someone riding a horse to protect them from falling off, and people who were afraid of being poisoned drank from jade bowls – if the bowl's contents were poisoned, the bowl would crack. As jade was so rare, it was also a symbol of wealth and power. Chinese emperors prayed to a disc of jade which represented heaven and allowed them to communicate directly with the gods.
Jade was commonplace in Chinese mythology. Yu Huang was known as the Jade Emperor, while the goddess Xi Wang Mu lived in a palace made of jade. Jade was also used in burial, and a corpse often had a cicada shaped piece of jade placed into its mouth (the cicada was a symbol of eternal youth and resurrection).
|A jade disc (Source: Wikimedia Commons)|