Jade, the Stone of Heaven: 9 Things You Might Not Know
While jade might seem typical of Chinese jewelry, its origin and history are anything but. Here are nine things you might not know about this treasured green stone.
It’s been revered in China for thousands of years
Since about 3400 BC, people in China have been using jade for a variety of objects. Tribes dug up jade deposits in the Yangtze River Delta and used them for everything from cooking utensils to weapons. Over the years, jade has also been used for ceremonial objects, decorative items, and jewelry.
It comes straight from heaven
At least according to myth. One claims jade is crystallized moonlight while another says it was created by thunder and captured the force of the heavens. Hence, its nickname, the Stone of Heaven.
Jade burial suits were once all the rage
Because it was believed the green stone would ward off decay, some particularly wealthy noblemen would ask to be buried in suits of entirely made of jade. Nowadays some people opt for the much simpler bracelet to combat rheumatism or a pendant as a symbol of longevity.
The English word for jade comes from ‘colic’
China hasn't been the only country to value jade. India is home to the world’s largest sculpture carved from a single jade rock. In New Zealand it’s considered an official treasure of the Maori culture and is protected by a governmental treaty.
In 16th-century Spain, jade was believed to have healing powers. It was called piedra de (la) ijada or yjada, or "(stone of) colic or pain in the side." While ijada or yjada means “colic” or “pain in the side,” the French took it to refer to the stone itself, calling it le jade, which entered the English language as jade around 1721.
It comes in two variations
The mineral we know as jade is either jadeite or nephrite (both are considered 100% jade). Jadeite is about the same hardness of quartz while nephrite is a little softer but at the same time more resistant to breakage.
It isn’t only green
While most known for its viridescent shades, jade comes in a surprising variety of colors. Jadeite’s hues range from pale to deep green, as well as blue-green, lavender, and even pink. While nephrite can be a variety of greens, it’s also known for its paler tones. Stones that are translucent white to very light yellow are known in China as “mutton fat jade.” Those that are opaque white to very light brown or gray are called “chicken bone jade.”
One of Taiwan’s most popular attractions is a cabbage made of jade
The National Palace Museum in Taipei houses almost 700,000 pieces of Chinese artwork and relics. But arguably the most popular is the Jadeite Cabbage. Visitors line up to view and snap pics of this tiny replica. Carved in the 19th-century by an unknown artist, the sculpture is intricate with details, from the ripples in the leaves to the katydid and locust hiding within them. The Jadeite Cabbage’s companion piece is the Meat-Shaped Stone, a small slab of delicious-looking pork belly carved out of jasper.
Most of the world’s nephrite jade isn’t mined in China
Despite its association with the Middle Kingdom, 92% of this jade variety comes from a region of British Columbia, Canada aptly known as Jade City. However, the nephrite capital of the world doesn’t live up to its urban moniker: it only has a population of 35.
There’s a reality TV show about jade mining
Got jade fever? This Canadian reality series is for you. Jade Fever focuses on a family-run mining operation set in — where else? — Jade City.
To learn more about Chinese cultural items, check out our post on lucky objects. You can also visit our collection of jade necklaces.
[Images: "Elephant and two boys," Qing Dynasty; "Jade burial suit" by John Hill; "Jadeite cabbage" by Peellden]