Sunday, 16 November 2014



Even as far back as neolithic times, nephrite Jade was worked within the regions of Khotan and its neighbour Yarkand which is in the far western region of Chinese territory.

 God of Longevity
The material was transported great distances over mountains and around the Taklamakan desert to centres in China where they worked Jade.

A radius of several thousand kilometres encompassed those regions where nephrite Jade was worked. Jade from Khotan, nephrite Jade is thought to have originated in the late Shang period, which is remarkable, considering Jade was far more precious than gold to its people, was actually found outside the Great Wall and China proper yet the Chinese sought no control of this region.
Nomadic tribes occupied the western region and trade routes which connect to China were hostile and considered barbaric to the Chinese.  As these tribes were nomadic in nature, there were frequent and violent eruptions between them and the Chinese, therefore there were often interruption to the supply form Khotan and Yarkand through the Jade Gate or Yumen at the far western end of the Great Wall.
Although pre-Han historical records mention virtually nothing of the raw jade, it is supported by archaeological evidence that raw jade from here was transported pre 1000BC.

In the tomb of Lady Fu Hao (c.1400BC) there bears an inscription on Shang oracle bones which record collecting jades and 
levying jades and a jade halberd which bears the inscription stating it was a tribute to the king of Shang for Lu, a country showing allegiance to Shang's kingdom but whose location is unknown.

The routes to China from the regions of Khotan and Yarkand were often interupted since the beginning of the Han Dynasty when Xiongnu a nomadic tribe controlled the routes and dominated this region a two way tribute system, that is a 2 way trade which would have included jade, between the Chinese and the Xiongnu.

Han Dynasty Jade & Bronze Sword
When Jihchu and Hanyei, 2 chiefs of the Xiongnu surrendered to the Han, Han dominance became established across Central Asia becoming firmly established.
An administrative officer named the Protector General of the Western Frontier and the Chinese garrisons, were sent by the Han judiciary to control the area and in return led to plentiful supply of raw Jade throughout the remainder of the Western Han Dynasty.

Unfortunately, this period was short lived after a civil war at the end of the Western Han. This was called the Wang and Mang Interregnum. When Xiongnu split into 2 polities, the Northern and Southern Xiongnu in 48AD the Han dominance was reestablished with the Southern Xiongnu surrendering and subsequently the North Xiongnu withdrawing to the northwest even though continued to challenge the Eastern Han dynasty for control of the western regions.

From around 73AD until the collapse of the Eastern Han in 220AD, Khotan and Yarkand trade routes remained open and the raw jade remained in plentiful supply.

Very little jade entered China after  the collapse of the Eastern Han dynasty due to the unsettled time during the period of the Wei, Jin, Northern & Southern dynasties including the Six Dynasties era while Chinese rulers put all their energy into maintaining their realms and the new Buddhism religion.

China was reunified under the Sui and Tang dynasties

encouraging trade with the rest of Asia enabling a plentiful supply of raw jade from the Khotan and Yarkand regions reentering the Chinese market.

A very famous Imperial concubine, the Jade beauty, is purported to have a bed made of Jade, wore only jade ornaments and completely surrounded herself with items made only from jade.

Around this time a law was made forbidding inferior jades for funerary purposes, which would have meant little had jade not been easily accessed.

With a large number of foreigners living in China during the Sui and Tang dynasties, their influence on art has been well attested due to the number of artefacts of all kinds.  Foreigners held gold and silver as the highest luxury, resulting in the Tang court and nobles during the 8th-10th century producing more gold and silver than during any other period in history, eclipsing jade therefore fewer jade items were produced due to the popularity of gold and silver.

In the 8th century, Islam spread through the Khotan and Yarkand regions when the Turkic tribes were converted.
Religious persecutions in China in 845 to 850 resulted in the virtual suspension of raw jade supply into China.  Historical data attest the disruption had a massive effect on the supply and price of raw jade.

In the exhibition at The Museum of East Asian Art, there are jades of a distinctive dull brownish-grey colour, sometimes with reddish veins, which appear to date to late Tang dynasty on the basis of their style or decoration, but which could be assigned to the period from 845-850 as it is hard to imagine dull, poor quality material being used at a time when quality jade was in pleniful supply as seems to be the case prior to 845 and definitely post 950.

James Watt in February 1981, at a jade siminar in Detroit stated that Song historical records mention that 
(i) in 951 the price of the best quality lychee-flesh white jade fell to a third its former value due to over supply.  The glut causing the middle men to be eliminated from the trade routes at that time 
Tang Pottery War Horse & rider
(ii) Oversupply continued until around 1028 when trade was disrupted by disturbances cased by the Xi Xia in China's north western border regions through which the trade routes ran 
(iii) It appears from historical records - little Jade entered China from 1028 to 1077 when it is recorded the trade roues reopened. 
(iv) Once they reopened, it seems there was a problem sourcing the preferred lychee-flesh white, and the jade which 1st entered China was described as having brown flecks.

Raw Jade was available during the rest of the Song dynasty, however there was a problem with the quality.

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