Antique Chinese and Japanese Porcelain collector's help and info page


Jade (Yu)

The name Jade is actually of Spanish origin and comes from the word piedra de hijada, meaning literally stones of the flank, or loin. This is referring back to the stones the Spanish found when exploring South America in the 16th century. The Indians was questioned about different medical treatments they knew of and presented what we would call jadeite "Jade" ornaments and amulets as a useful cure for all kinds of kidney ailments. For similar reasons the nephrite mineral seems to have got its name, from the Greek word nepros, for "kidney".

Even if the "Jade" mineral might have first been observed for its strength back in early Neolithic times c. 6000 B.C. it appears to have become mostly used for ornamental and ritual use already by late Neolithic times c. 1500 B.C. Neolithic and Shang dynasty jade carvers produced ritual and ceremonial implements, insignia of rank, articles of personal adornment such as earrings, bracelets, and hair ornaments, and even a few small sculptures of unknown function representing humans and animals. During the Shang the preferences were for stones of sea-green color, just as its longitudinal crest, chamfered edges, and smoothly polished surfaces reveal the taste for subtly decorated jades.

Strange to say, although there are very few places where this mineral can now be obtained, in prehistoric times the stone must have been found in many different localities, since axe-heads and other artifacts of jade have been discovered in many lands both of the old and new world.

In the 5th century B.C. Confucius (c. 551-479 B.C.) likened the stone's qualities of hardness, purity, constancy, and beauty to the virtues of his "Superior Man."

Although the source of the jade used in the earliest times remains unknown, by the so-called Warring States period (480-221 B.C.) the Chinese were importing nephrite jade, mostly in the form of river pebbles, from Khotan, then considered a remote site in the distant hinterlands of Xiyu, or the Western Regions. The translucent nephrite found in some Warring States plaques often reveals the Warring States-period taste for mottled stones.

By the time of the Han dynasty Daoist alchemists made whole burial suits of polished "Jade" plaques sewn together with gold threads, to ensure the perseverance of the body.

The term 'Jade' and its Chinese name Yu, are often used to designate many different stones and glossy materials. While the name Jade in the west is mostly limited to refer to the minerals jadeite and nephrite, the Chinese Jade (Yu) is a wide concept covering almost any finely worked ancient mineral artifact. The materials that occur are ranging from relatively hard minerals such as agate and crystal and all the way to marble and soapstone. Despite the confusion it could be argued that the proper definition of Chinese Jade should reflect the use the word 'Yu' have in the Chinese culture.

On thing that to some extent have complicated dating is the fact that Jade apparently also was esteemed as heirlooms by the time of the Han dynasty. Some plaques were recently recovered from the tomb of the king of Nanyue, near Guangzhou. Although the tomb dates only to 122 B.C., it included a number of northern and much earlier Warring States-period jades.

Jade from a western standpoint is a name that includes two visually similar but geologically different stones: nephrite and jadeite. Although native deposits of jade are known today in China, the stones worked in the past came from without. The best nephrite came from Khotan, the slightly harder jadeite from Burma.

Both nephrite and jadeite are found in a variety of colors from white to black, depending the presence of small quantities of iron, chromium or magnesium. The overall preferred color for nephrite throughout Chinese history was white although different dynasties preferred different colors.

The brilliant green stones used in fine Chinese jewelry are jadeite while the "spinach green" hue is nephrite imported from Siberia, in quantity probably beginning in the eighteenth century, is the best known in the West but also the least prized in traditional China.

Jadeite and Nephrite

Nephrite is a silicate of calcium and magnesium and is the jade of Chinese antiquity. That has been worked in China since the Neolithic period when it was brought in from Central Asia. Jadeite on the other hand, is a silicate of sodium and aluminum with a different crystal structure than nephrite and is slightly harder. Jadeite does not seem to have been much used in China before 1780, when it started to be imported in abundance from Burma.

Modern dress ornaments

Most of the small colorful and glossy stone figures we find today are traditional dress ornaments and good luck symbols from the 18th century and later. Due to its hardness it was considered good protection to carry a pieces of Jade on your body, since that would take the blow if someone tried to hurt you. If the Jade was worked into the shape of a turtle, with its hard shell, that would offer even better protection.


Modern souvenir trinkets abounds, made in all kinds of materials, inclusive of glass, so some care is recommended studying the workmanship which tells what is good or not. Jadeite is glassier compared to a more waxy luster for nephrite. Both types of jade are harder than a knife blade. Jadeite has an exceptional ability to transmit light, and in proper light conditions will produce an iridescent glow. Nephrite will exhibit lesser translucent properties however,

Origin of name

Initially the name 'Jade' came from the Spanish designation piedra de hijada meaning literally "stone of the flank". When the Spaniards discovered and explored the South American continent in the 16th century, they came across numerous native ornaments and amulets made of jade (jadeite). Strangely enough, actually, since Jadeite does not naturally seem to occur on that continent. The Indians used the stone for treatment of all kidneys diseases. Many of these stones were brought to Europe. This same use also gave the name Nephrite after the Greek word nepros for "kidney".

The materials itself

The materials itself can range from relatively hard minerals such as agate and crystal through softer ones such as nephrite, jadeite and turquoise all the way to marble and soapstone. Chinese jade actually includes an assortment of other minerals that would have looked to the early craftsman as identical in many regards. In fact even with modern techniques it can be difficult to differentiate nephrite from some of its close relatives. With this background it seems that the proper definition of Chinese Jade should reflect the use the word Yu have in the Chinese culture.

One thing these minerals have in common is that they are excellent mediums for sculpting. It is a very resilient mineral and can be found in a variety of colors making it a very appealing source material for the early Chinese craftsman.

Names and minerals that could be referred to under the name of Jade includes:


A soft, waxy stone - such as pinite, pyrophyllite, or steatite - of a gray, green, yellow, or brown shade; used by the Chinese to simulate jade for carving small images, miniature pagodas, and similar objects.

Lard stone

A kind of soft stone found in China. See also: steatite; agalmatolite.


a. White hydrated silica, probably a variety of opal; occurring in clay in central Russia.

b. Massive talc. Syn: steatite; agalmatolite.

c. A massive variety of muscovite and/or pyrophyllite.

See also:pagodite


Massive talc; steatite.

Manchurian jade

See: Soapstone


Ordinary massive pinite in its amorphous compact texture and other physical characters, but containing more silica. The Chinese carve the soft stone into miniature pagodas and images. See also: agalmatolite; lardite; pinite.


A compact, fine-grained, generally impure mica near muscovite in composition; dull-gray, green, or brown; derived from the alteration of other minerals, esp. cordierite, nepheline, scapolite, spodumene, and feldspar.


A monoclinic mineral, (Ca/2,Na)0.3 (Mg,Fe)3 (Si,Al)4 O10 (OH)2 .4H2 O ; smectite group; soft; massive; plastic; unctuous; in veins and cavities in serpentinite and basalt. Syn: Bowlingite; Mountain soap; Piotine; Soapstone. Etymol: Greek "sapon" soap.

Soap earth

See: Steatite

Soap rock

See: Soapstone


a. Massive talc. Syn: steatite; soaprock.

b. A metamorphic rock of massive, schistose, or interlaced fibrous or flaky texture and soft, unctuous (greasy) feel; composed essentially of talc with variable amounts of mica, chlorite, amphibole, and pyroxene; alteration product of ultramafic rock; may be carved into art objects or sawn into dimension stone for use where chemical resistance or high heat capacity is needed.

c. A miners' and drillers' term for any soft, unctuous rock. Syn: Agalmatolite; Manchurian jade; Talcum.

d. See: Saponite; Talc.


a. A compact, massive, fine-grained, fairly homogeneous talc-rich rock.

b. Gray-green or brown massive impure talc that is carved easily into ornamental objects. Syn: Lardite; Lard stone; Soapstone; Soap earth. See also: Talc

Steatite talc

A relatively pure or high-grade variety of talc suitable for use in electronic insulators, the purest commercial form of talc. Syn: French chalk


a. A monoclinic and triclinic mineral, 2[Mg6 (OH)4 (Si8) O20 )] ; basal cleavage; soft; has a greasy or soapy feel; easily cut with a knife; occurs as hydrothermal alteration of ultramafic rocks, low-grade metamorphism of siliceous dolomites in foliated, granular, or fibrous masses; an insulator, ceramic raw material, and lubricant. Originally spelled talck. See also: steatite; soapstone.

b. In commercial usage, a talcose rock; a rock consisting of talc, tremolite, chlorite, anthophyllite, and related minerals. Syn: talcum

(soapy feel: Unctuous; said of talc and other magnesium minerals.)

Medical use

As Jadeite and Nephrite was and still are the most favored stones in China, although never found within the boundaries of China proper, it was also naturally thought to possess wonderful medical virtues. An old Chinese encyclopedia, the work of Li She Chan, and presented by him in 1596 to the Wanli emperor of the Ming dynasty, contains many interesting notices of jade. When reduced to a powder of the size of rice grains it strengthened the lungs, the heart, and the vocal organs, and prolonged life, more especially if gold and silver were added to the jade powder.

Another way of taking in this precious mineral was to drink what was enthusiastically called the "divine liquor of jade". This elixir was prepared by boiling equal parts of jade, rice, and dew-water in a copper pot. After filtering and drinking this concoction was said to "strengthen the muscles and make them supple, to harden the bones, to calm the mind, to enrich the flesh, and to purify the blood". Whoever took it for a long space of time ceased to suffer from either heat or cold and no longer felt either hunger or thirst.

Hard and Soft Jade

Jade in China is varied and can be divided into two categories: hard and soft jade. Good materials provide a strong basis for jadeware carving, but the value of a jade object depends on the skills and reputation of the craftsman, date of carving, the peculiar modeling, and the owner's status. Certainly, different people will have their own views on the value of the same jade object. It is difficult to maintain a unanimous standard. Due to the high value of ancient jadeware, there is an equally long tradition of fake jadeware, which looks very much like the real thing.

Jade as ritual objects

The use of jade as a ritual object dates from the Neolithic Period. While different sacrificial objects were used at different times, the use of jade ritual objects also varied from time to time. The bi (a flat disc of jade with a hole in its centre) and cong (a hollow tube of cylindrical section enclosed by a rectangular body) were used respectively to worship Heaven and Earth, a practice followed since the Neolithic period until the Qing Dynasty.

During the Han Dynasty, the guibi (a type of jade tablet) was used for worshipping mountains and rivers. During the Tang and Song dynasties, a jade conferment book was not only used in the Ritual of Apotheosis (a ceremony worshipping Heaven and Earth) but as proof of conferment. The book and seal system in the Qing Dynasty was well developed and there was a wide variety, of which the jade books and jade seals with emperor’s posthumous title were commonly seen.

Jade objects were also symbolically important regarding social status and rank, for example, the yugui (an enlongated jade tablet) which represented power during the Longshan Culture of the late Neolithic Period to the Shang and Zhou dynasties and even to the Tang, Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties.

From the Qin Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty, the yuxi (jade imperial seal) symbolised imperial power, succeeded by the yuzupei (a set including two or more jade accessories) during the Western Zhou Dynasty until the Han and Jin dynasties, and the yuzupei and yudaii (jade belt) during the Tang, Song and Ming dynasties. Together, the bi, cong, gui, seal, book, accessory set and jade belt constituted an integral part of the ritual system of the dynasties.

According to Huangchao Liqi Tushi, (Illustrations of Imperial Ritual Objects) compiled in the 24th year of the reign of Emperor Qianlong, the cangbi (sky-blue jade disc) was placed on the main altar to worship Heaven while the huangcong (yellow jade tablet) was placed on the main altar to worship Earth; the gui (an enlongated tablet) was placed both in the taishe (Temple for the Virtue of Land) and sheji (Temple of the Gods of Land and Grain): the gui placed in the taishe was mostly white with yellow stripes, symbolising the virtue of land, while the gui placed in the sheji was celadon, symbolising a good harvest. In addition, a jade tablet and jade cup, respectively, were placed on the main and second altar of the sheji.

Sacrificial offerings were not only used in sacrificial rites but in music, dance performances and grand ceremonies. The yuteqing (chime jades suspended separately) was an indispensable musical instrument for playing Shao music during sacrificial activities; the bianqing (a chime of sinorous stones) was used to play the ceremonial music Danbi Dayue, Zhonghe Qingyue and Danbi Qingyue at important national ceremonies and large-scale banquets.

The book and seal system

The book and seal system was founded upon the establishment of the Qing Dynasty. The 25 imperial seals were a renowned collection of seals devised by Emperor Qianlong to represent state power. Their respective scope of use was also specified.

Of those 25 imperial seals, 23 were jade, with a dragon design and inscriptions in Manchu and Han characters. The seal and book system succeeded the Ming Dynasty and was used by the Emperor when he granted a title of honour to the Empress Dowager upon his enthronement. Originally made in both gold and jade, imperial seals and books were made only in jade since the 36th year of the reign of Emperor Qianlong. Jade books and jade seals with posthumous titles were made for deceased former Emperors and Empresses when bestowing upon them their posthumous titles.

Court beads and belts

Court beads were an important part of the carriage and costume system of the Qing Dynasty. Emperor, Empress and court officials would wear different textures and colours of court beads and belts according to their official rank and the occasion. The chaplet of court beads worn by the Emperor in grand ceremonies comprised 108 Eastern pearls, decorated with other ornaments, including Buddha head, jinian (shorter string of beads), beiyun (longer string of beads) and pendants of different sizes. It was decorated with lapis lazuli or amber when worshipping Heaven or Earth, or with coral and turquoise when worshipping the Sun or Moon.

The Empress’s court dress was designed to match three strings of court beads, a string of Eastern pearls, and two strings of coral beads. Her semi-formal court robe matched a string of court beads.


Owing to the needs of spiritual practice, stabilising Tibetan Areas and uniting the dependent states, Tibetan Buddhism assumed an essential status in the Forbidden City and thus Chinese Buddhism also found a place for itself in the territory.

The settings of the Buddha halls housed in the court strictly followed the sacrificial system of Tibetan Buddhism, replicating the original beauty and excellence of Buddhist art. This grand magnificence was further strengthened by the gold Buddhist pagoda inlaid with precious stones, Buddhist statues, and Buddhist instruments, etc. The jade Buddhist statues stood aloof and unworldly. Amidst the mysterious, ethereal air of the Holy Land of Buddhism released from the Thangka paintings, one would give vent to his admiration and this dreamlike fantasy.

Chinese Buddhist items from the imperial court were made of jade - such as the Buddha, Guanyin and Arhat statues - which revealed different expressions and postures: solemn and serene, tranquil and calm or charmingly pure. The ‘White jade Buddha in standing position with a crane’ and ‘White jade Guanyin Bodhisattva’, look more amiable and genial, abandoning the past merciful image overlooking all mortal beings.

There were also Buddhist sacrificial objects, instruments and utensils, for example, bell, vajra, the Five Sacrificial Utensils (an incense burner, two goblets and two candle sticks), Seven Buddhist Treasures, Eight Auspicious Symbols, alms bowl, prayer beads, etc. The yugui (jade tablet) is another type of special sacrificial object, held in the hand of Gods and Goddess worshipped in the temple. According to historical records, in the 18th year of the reign of Emperor Qianlong, an imperial order mandated the making of a number of jade tablets, including a Jade Emperor, God of the Earth, Goddess of the Sea, and 17 Gods of Rain, although they can hardly be distinguished and verified today.

Inspired by their devotion to Buddhism, the scriptures, commendations, eulogies, etc. written by the emperor and his officials were often engraved on jade books or jade carvings, or written on paper and bound into a book. Emperor Qianlong once personally wrote the scriptures from the Heart Sutra on a bound book, which could be held in a small round jade box and worshipped at any time. The Heart Sutra scriptures, commendations to the Portrait of Arhats, and commendations to Three Star Gods written by the Emperor were common subjects carved on the jade books.

The subject of Buddhism was also a popular decorative pattern of the imperial jade-ware in the Qing Dynasty, of which the Seven Buddhist Treasures, Eight Auspicious Symbols and lotus were most commonly seen. Table screens and rockeries embracing the theme of Buddhist allusions or figures - such as Bodhidharma crossing the river, Bodhidharma sits facing the wall, and painting of Arhats - enable us to have a glimpse of the piety of the court family as Buddhists and the influence of Buddhist art exerted on the decorative art of the Qing Dynasty.

Jade objects for furnishing

Like other furnishings, the emergence of jade furnishings can be closely related to the popularity of interior furnishings , for example, couch, table, teapoy, desk, duobaoge (curio cabinet), etc. The Night Revels of Han Xizai by Gu Hongzhong of the Five Dynasties depicts a huagu vase arranged with flowers. These scenarios tally with the period marking the emergence of high-stemmed furnishings in the Northern and Southern dynasties and the subsequent reform of Chinese antique furnishings. Hence, it is incontrovertible that jade decorations existed during the late Tang and the Five Dynasties.

Following the development of interior furnishings in the Song Dynasty, flower decorations in vases became more popular, with the ruyi not merely held in the hands but an item of interior furnishing. Bronze sacrificial vessels from the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties and ancient jade-ware placed on tables or desks were not only for decorative purposes but for gentle handling and admiration, offering people a special delight.

Imperial jade furnishings from the Qing Dynasty are renowned for their large quantity, wide variety and extensive use. Incense burner in the style of luduan (a mythical beast) was placed in front of the Emperor’s throne in the Forbidden City and used for both ritual and practical purposes. Inside the palaces and halls of the Inner Court, jade furnishings can be seen everywhere on curio cabinets, couches, desks, and walls. These include ancient style jade ware, ruyi, rockeries, vases, potted decorations, table screens, hanging screens, screens and small decorative items featuring human figures, animals, and plants such as melons and fruit, etc.

The renowned painting Emperor Qianlong Appraising Antiques depicts Qianlong sitting in the centre of a long couch, with decorative bronze and porcelain items, as well as jade disc and jade stemmed bowl, flanking the two sides of the long desk.

Some portraits of emperors and empresses depicted jade ruyi placed next to a couch and a desk decorated with a pair of jade rings symbolising universal harmony, four-legged incense burners, brush washers in the design of lotus leaf and mythical dragon, sacrificial incense burners, and elephant statues symbolising national peace and abundant harvest. The curio cabinets are used to put a mixed variety of decorative items, including ancient style jade ware, bronze ware and porcelain.

Decorative pots made of jade and jade as part of a potted decoration could often be found in the imperial court. The largest one is the Jade Pedestal Featuring Immortals made during the reign of Emperor Tongzhi and Guangxu, of which the mountain, rocks and figures are made of valuable materials such as jade and stained ivory, making it a large one-of-a-kind decorative pot.

Curios - Small Jade objects for admiration and amusement

The curios and jade items from the Qing Dynasty mentioned here specifically refer to jade ware for admiration, amusement, nurturing in hand and entertainment, such as the Emperor’s private seals, small jade ware stored in box, drawer, small box, and case, and other pastime objects such as the xiao (a vertical bamboo flute), Go game, Chinese chess, backgammon, etc. Despite its practical use, jade stationery is tentatively classified as a curio because of its special nature.

In addition to the jade seals symbolising national power, each reign of emperor during the Qing Dynasty possessed a variety of seals used for calligraphy, paintings and books. The renowned seals of Emperor Qianlong include the ‘Qian Long Yu Lan Zhi Bao’ (seal for the appreciation of His Majesty Qianlong), the ‘Gu Xi Tian Zi Zhi Bao’ (seal of the Son of Heaven at the age of seventy), the ‘Ba Zheng Mao Nian Zhi Bao’ (seal of an octogenarian), the ‘Shi Quan Lao Ren Zhi Bao’ (seal of the perfect old man), and Emperor Jiaqing’s ‘Jiu You Yi Xin’ (seal praying for the age of 90), etc.

Qing imperial jade ware also pays special attention to packaging. Many small jade items were stored in curio boxes known as baishijian and served as decorations in the palace, hall, tower and pavilion or were playthings of the emperors. This has also led to another form of harmony between the conventional interests of the literati and the likeness of all excellent human virtues in jade.

Jade stationary

Jade stationery first appeared in the Shang Dynasty. The jade palette unearthed from the Tomb of Fu Hao in the city of Anyang, Henan Province remains the earliest surviving jade stationery. During the Song and Liao dynasties, there emerged the jade inkstone and brush rest, etc. The jade stationery of the Ming Dynasty became more diverse and common, and saw the emergence of many other types of stationery, including the brush shaft, yandi or shuizhu (water dropper), arm rest, brush holder, brush washer, etc., of which the brush washer was most commonly seen and had the most variety of shapes.

The jade stationery of the Qing imperial court far exceeds the previous dynasties both in terms of quantity and variety and formed a complete set of stationery and desk accessories, including ink pallet, inkstick holder, zhenchi or zhenzhi (paperweight), inkslab screen, shucheng or shuizhu (water dropper), seal, inkpad case, etc. The design of jade stationery was abundant – simple, elegant, complicated or gorgeous. The decorative pattern brimmed with scholarly leisure and elegant style influencing the jade carving style of the late Ming Dynasty. Some jade ware from the preceding dynasties was ingeniously adapted as jade stationery or as part of the stationery. For example, the jade belt plaque of the Ming Dynasty was adapted as accessory and inkstick holder during the early Qing Dynasty. The sword buckle from the Han and Song dynasties was adapted and inlaid in the rosewood paperweight as a hand grip. This workmanship first appeared in the Ming Dynasty.

Snuff bottles

The snuff bottle was unique to the Qing Dynasty and became widespread following the introduction of snuff from the West into China. The material of snuff bottles is diverse, with glass, enamel and jade forming the majority and they are represented by many surviving works.

Jewels, Ornaments and pendants

Jade as an ornament comes from human’s pursuit of beauty. The doctrine of the ‘virtue of jade’ compares the natural attributes of jade to the excellent virtues of a man such as benevolence, righteousness, humility, intelligence and loyalty. Thus, jade is honoured as symbolic of the ‘five virtues’ and ‘eleven virtues’. Han Confucians actively promoted and instilled the notion of ‘the virtues in jade bear resemblance to that of junzi’ and the saying ‘unless there is a reason, a junzi should never put off his jade ornament’ into the heart of Chinese people, thus helped promote the development of wearing jade as ornamentation.

In ancient times, jade ornaments have early origins and are widely practised in many areas, with a great variety of designs and decorative patterns employed. Jade is primarily used to make or embellish jewels, costume ornaments and small portable items. In keeping with changing times, jade products, on the one hand, continued to attract innovation, while on the other hand adhering to tradition. The latter are represented by jade hairpins, jade belt rings, and sheshipei (jade pendant in the shape of she) and were occasionally found in different dynasties.

In addition to beautifying one’s appearance, jade ornaments – for example, the yuzupei (a set including two or more jade accessories), jade belt and court bead necklace, etc. – were sometimes used for ritual purposes, representing social identity and hierarchy. The yuzupei first appeared in the Western Zhou Dynasty, which enjoyed a long period of prosperity from the Eastern Zhou Dynasty to the Han and Song dynasties and was revived in the Ming Dynasty. The origin of the jade belt dates back to the Sui and Tang dynasties and was fashionable in the Song, Liao, Jin and Ming dynasties. Although the use of the yuzupei and jade belt has a long history, it also comprises an integral part of the costume system, with shapes and styles varying from dynasty to dynasty. What remains unchanged is that jade has always symbolised supremacy.

While adhering to tradition, the imperial jade costume ornaments of the Qing Dynasty have developed via special products. Hairpin, bangle, ring, button, belt ring, belt buckle, clothing hook and ring, wearing-ornament, pendant, etc. were products of preceding dynasties, whilst the long, thin hairpin with ear-pick design was unique to the Qing Dynasty. The bianfang, (flat square hairpin), huadian (headdress accessory), banzhi (thumb ring) and sachet were new to the Qing Dynasty.

The jade jewels, costume ornaments, other ornaments and pendants housed in the Qing imperial court are renowned for their select materials, exquisite craftsmanship and compact size, transfixing the eyes of the beholder. Unlike preceding dynasties, the jade costume ornaments of the Qing Dynasty lay more emphasis on artistic and practical values, with less emphasis on ritual purposes, reflecting the changing trends of the costume system of the Qing Dynasty.

Jade house ware

Jade house ware emerged as early as the Shang and Western Zhou dynasties, with jade gui (a round-mouthed food vessel with or without cover and ears), jade plate, jade yi, (a lower ewer with a flat base on three or four legs, from which water could be poured) and jade lei ( a large jar with the widest part of the body just below the neck) etc. all shaped in imitation of their bronze counterparts. Jade cups with ears, jade zun (cups for drinking or warming up wine) and jade lamps were made in the Warring States Period. During the Han Dynasty, jade zhi(a low cup or bowl with two or more handles), jade cup, horn-shaped jade cup, jade zun and jade ladle replaced bronze ware, becoming the house ware of choice for the imperial and aristocratic families.

During the Sui and Tang dynasties, jade cups with golden lips, jade cups with lotus leaf patterns, jade ladles and jade boxes with mandarin duck and flower patterns demonstrated the characteristic Han culture, while curved long cups, long cups and agate cups shaped in an antelope’s head emanated an exotic flavour, all of which were a manifestation of the open-mindedness and tolerance for which the great Tang Dynasty is renowned. From the Song Dynasty, a greater variety of cups and boxes emerged in terms of design and shape, with more patterns and larger sizes.

The different features in jade ware between the Han people of the central plains and the northern nomadic tribes were extremely pronounced.

The Dushan Dayuhai from the Yuan Dynasty is the largest jade wine container ever discovered from this period. One of the major characteristics of jade ware from the Ming Dynasty is the combined use of gold lids and bases. Jade bowls excavated from the Dingling imperial tomb of the Emperor Wanli were splendidly combined with gold lids and bases. In general, teapots from the Ming Dynasty were quite tall and jade incense ware, such as incense burners, incense holders and sets of censer, vase and box became popular during this period.

The houseware of the Qing Dynasty included eating and drinking utensils, containers, incense burners, candlesticks, hat racks, canes, cane heads, massage items and ashtrays, etc., among which there were highly crafted items such as imperial tea bowls used by the Emperor to pour tea for his court officials, large plates specially designed to hold fruit, as well as mass produced plainlooking plates and bowls in various sizes.

Teapots from this period were significantly shorter compared to their counterparts from the Ming Dynasty. Indoor incense items such as incense burners, perfumers, incense holders, incense stands and sets of censer, vase and box continued the traditions of the Ming Dynasty. As in the Ming Dynasty, the use of jade ware coupled with gold was limited to a very small circle of people, with only a small quantity of such items available.

According to regulations during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, only the Emperor’s mother and Empress were permitted to use a set of ‘jade cups with gold bases’ and only two sets of ‘jade cups and gold plates’ could be used during an imperial banquet, with all others prohibited from using them. While silver refuse-vessels decorated with gold flowers first appeared in the Tang Dynasty, those made of jade, so far as we know, were only found in the Qing Dynasty. Jade hat racks of all shapes and forms were unique to the Qing Dynasty.

Perfumers and incense holders from the Qing Dynasty were often heavily decorated on their surfaces, layer upon layer, with patterns, landscapes or hollow cut flowers and tree branches, all in an orderly manner. Incense burners were often made in imitation of their bronze counterparts in terms of design and pattern, with dignified poise. The custom of incensing first began in the Qin Dynasty and lasted until the late Qing Dynasty and early Republic.

Before becoming the daily rituals of the aristocratic families of the Qin and Han dynasties, early incensing activities were primarily for worshipping and medicine. The Boshan incense burners made of bronze and pottery from the Han and Jin dynasties, as well as the ball-shaped silver perfumer, were all renowned items. Throughout history, hollow cutting techniques were used to make incense ware in order to better diffuse fragrance.