The Significance Of Jade In Chinese Culture

chinese green jade ring and bangle

With a history that possibly dates back over 7,000 years, Jade has played an important role in the development of beliefs, customs, and traditions in China and has long been considered a symbol of power, wealth, and virtue.

What is Jade?

Jade is an ornamental mineral which is famous for it’s green iterations. It can actually refer to one of two minerals, either nephrite or jadeite.

Nephrite is often creamy in color, while jadeite is the variety often carved into artifacts in China, preferred due to it’s glossy green appearance.

However, Jade is not simply a mere stone or mineral. In China, it is considered to be a symbol of wealth and wisdom.

“Gold has a value; jade is invaluable” – A Chinese Proverb

In China, it is believed that Jade represents a cultured heart and mind.

It was also a symbol of wealth. Particularly the ‘Bi’, which refers to a jade disc with a hole in it. Bi’s were quite popular in ancient Chinese culture and owning one was often thought to be a status symbol, to show your esteem within the community.

Use in Artifacts

Jade holds a certain hardness and beauty which makes it desirable for carving or chiseling jewelry, religious artifacts, and other goods such as seals, axe blades, and burial masks.

“Jade, without chiseling, cannot become a useful object” – A Chinese Proverb

This saying means refers to the refinement process of Jade through carving or chiseling. It is considered a parallel to the refinement process of our lives, and implies that through living, we refine ourselves and become more useful and educated.

Jade in Chinese Mythology

In ancient China, it was said that Jade blesses everything it touches. It was considered a link between the human realm and the spiritual realm.

Many of those in ancient China believed jade to be crystallized moonlight brought down from the mountains, once upon a time.

Another legend states that jade was created during a storm, which is why many Chinese place some of the mineral within their home, to protect them against lightning strikes.

The mythical phoenix from Chinese and Japanese cultures were thought to land on surfaces of jade. Note that the Chinese/Japanese iteration of the phoenix is very different from the Western phoenix who rises from ash and flames.

Interestingly enough, jade also held spiritual significance to the Mayans.

Six Ritual and Six Ceremonial Jades

The six ritual jades which originated from pre-history include the bi (a flat disc with a hole in the middle), the cong (a prismatic tube), the huang (a flat half-ring pendant), the hu, the flat blade-like gui, and the zhang.

The names and functions of these artifacts are subject to much controversy.

The Zhou Li (The Rites of Zhou), an ancient Chinese book on bureaucracy describes the following, although these may not have had anything to do with their original symbology:

  • The bi is represents the heavens.
  • The cong represents the earth.
  • The gui represents the east.
  • The zhang represents the south.
  • The hu represents the west.
  • The huang represents the north.

The original use for the Six Ritual Jades has unfortunately been lost in time, but it is heavily believed that they had a religious purpose. Because of this, they eventually devolved into status symbols for the wealthy.

The Zhou Li states the following:

  • Kings are entitled to the Gui of the zhen type.
  • Dukes are entitled to the huang.
  • Marquis are entitled of Gui of the xin type.
  • Earls are entitled to gui of the gong type.
  • Viscounts are entitled to bi of the gu type.
  • Barons are entitled to bi of the pu type.

Unfortunately, not much else is known about the Six Ritual Jades.

jadeite bi
Bi with Two Dragons, Warring States Period
Image from Wikipedia

Jade in Modern Culture

Jade remains a cultural symbol of China and it is still often used today. The 2008 Beijing Olympics are a good example. In this event, the medals were inlaid with jade discs on the reverse side. Each of the 3 types of medals contained a different type of the mineral.

Metaphysical Properties of Jade

In regards to jade’s metaphysical properties, it is considered a stone of protection. It is also thought to provide clarity. This makes it a great gift because it shows that you care. It is also considered a healer of the heart chakra.

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