There are many legends that tell the connection between China and Jade, which is called YU or ‘the most precious thing’. We have told the story of Bian He and now it is time to discover that of the Messenger of Heaven.
In China, jade was the symbol of the supreme power of emperors and this legend spans over a thousand years of history and various dynasties: the Qin, the Han i Sui and the Tang.
It is narrated that the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi, belonging to the Qin dynasty (221 BC – 206 BC), as soon as he ascended to the throne, ordered his jeweler artisans to create a seal made with the famous Jade He and engrave on it the words: “Messenger of Heaven, of longevity and eternal prosperity“. In other words, the seal made its owner the messenger, the son delegated from Heaven, the evidence of his absolute imperial power.
At the end of the Qin dynasty, Gao Zu, the first emperor of the Han dynasty (he ruled from 202 BC to 195 BC), once he ascended the throne, had the imperial seal of the Qin dynasty handed over and renamed it “Scepter of the Messenger of the Han dynasty”.
The next owner of the Jade He seal was Wang Mang, who was linked to the imperial family from the maternal side. Wang usurped the throne when the Western Han emperor was only two years old (206 BC – 24 AD). It is said that when the seal was handed over to him, he threw it on the ground to demonstrate his anger, breaking it and the damages were later repaired with gold.
The seal was later tied to the emperors of the Sui and Tang dynasties. Its last owner was Li Congke of the Tang dynasty, who was defeated by the Khitan Army. After the debacle, the emperor took the seal, saved himself, his family and his loyalists fleeing in a tower, and in a last attempt to save his honor, set a fire, dying burned and bringing with him also the seal of the messenger of heaven.
Rituals and Beliefs
Jade as a divine accessory
The Chinese thought that jade incorporated the living essences of heaven and earth, therefore shamans used it as a communication tool with the gods and each god was associated with a specific type of jade.
When an emperor reached the supreme power, he used to perform the following ritual: he climbed the highest peak of a mountain and then threw carved jade tablets to inform the Mountain’s gods of his ascension to power.
When the emperor got sick, his shaman used to go to the mountain to throw tablets with prayers engraved to implore the healing of the sovereign. This ritual has been confirmed thanks to the discovery, at the foot of Mount Hua, of two jade tablets, dating back to the period of the Fighting Kingdoms (453 BC – 221 BC). Prayers for the healing of the emperor were engraved on both sides.
According to ancient Chinese beliefs, jade had the ability to cast out evil spirits and preserve the body after death. For this reason it was widely used in funeral rites and burials.
The deceased were often buried with jade clothes sewn with gold threads and in the tombs were also found Congs, ancient jade artefacts (the first ones were produced between 3400 and 2250 BC) with a circular section in the inside and square section on the outside, the meaning of which is still unknown.
A similar robe was found in the tomb of the Mayan king, Pacal, in the ancient city of Palenque, in Mexico. A detail that combines peoples very distant from each other and separated by the Pacific Ocean.
The virtues of Jade
In ancient China, ornaments and jewels defined the social status. The noble women, celebrated by classical poetry, used to wear a lot of jade jewels: necklaces, bracelets, pendants, earrings or even whole sets.
But jade, according to the Chinese, had much more than just a purely decorative function. In fact, the jewels not only emphasized beauty, but allowed to become aware of their physical qualities and increased the finesse of the senses. Furthermore, it was believed that there was a kind of interaction between the jade jewelry and the person who wore it.
If a person wore a jade jewel, the essence emanating from the necklace merged with that of the person: a sort of symbiosis testified by the increase in the brightness and structure of the finest jade if the person was healthy. Even if the person was not in good health, the jade of the jewel would have accelerated the recovery.
The ancient Chinese also wore jade jewelry as a sign of moral culture: “a man of virtue never separates from his jade jewelry without a valid reason“.
In Chinese metaphors, jade is often associated with the feminine virtues of purity and chastity: the ideal wife is “pure and translucent as jade“.
Finally, even in today’s China there are many virtues recognized to jade.
Contact with jade allows to unwind and relax. Wearing it in contact with the skin allows it to give relief to the kidneys and to strengthen the energy of the heart. Placed under a pillow, it provides a deep and pleasant sleep. The jade tablets, placed on the belly, encourage childbirth.
Jade has also the power to weigh judgments on others and raise one’s level of knowledge. It increases the longevity of life and promotes resurrection.
The next time you will go to China we are sure that you will look at jade with different eyes!