Ancient jade artifacts shed light on Jin Kingdom, Liangzhu civilization
The Jin Kingdom during the Zhou Dynasty (c.11th century-256 BC), in what is now Shanxi Province in north China, epitomized the highest level of jade and bronze rituals of the period.
The mausoleums of aristocrats of the Jin Kingdom (1033-376 BC) have been deemed as one of the largest and best preserved from the Zhou Dynasty. Archeologists have spent decades digging and doing research since uncovering them in Yangshe, Tianma, and Qu villages of Shanxi in the last century.
A myriad of jade articles and bronze vessels has been brought to light so far after having been buried underground for millennia.
Now, about 170 pieces of jade and bronze vessels on loan from Shanxi museums are on display at Liangzhu Museum through March 15. The exhibition "Perfection in Ritual" showcases the glory days of the millennia-old jade culture and testifies to the influence it still has in China today.
In addition, visitors can see Liangzhu jades exhibited along with the counterparts from the Jin Kingdom, and learn about the differences of techniques, aesthetics and etiquettes in north and south China.
In Shanxi Province, the excavated tomb sites cover more than 220,000 square meters with artifacts from jade and bronze to pottery and weapons. Ancient Jin people created jade objects to worship ancestors and nature. The value of jade even exceeded that of gold and silver.
During the Zhou Dynasty, the jade culture reached its zenith, with the varieties and styles enriched significantly. The displayed objects are the epitome of top-notch jade articles. However, what had archeologists wondering the most was a yucong (玉琮) unearthed from a Jin Kingdom mausoleum.
Yucong, a large jade cylinder with a hole in the middle and finely etched motifs, is very typical of the Liangzhu civilization. The shape symbolizes the orbits of the sun and moon.
However, the Liangzhu civilization thrived in the present-day Yangtze River Delta region about 5 millennia ago. How did the yucong travel across China later and appear in the Jin Kingdom?
"We don't have a clear answer. No archives have recorded it," Xu Tianjin, curator of Liangzhu Museum, pointed out. "According to modern-day research, we believe this special yucong did not wander from Liangzhu to the Jin Kingdom, but remained as a precious treasure of aristocrats throughout millennia."
According to historical accounts, King Wu, the first king of the Zhou Dynasty, collected varied types of jades from around China and then gave them away to aristocrats. The Liangzhu yucong is believed to be among the collection, which was kept by a noble family for a long time.
Apart for the original Liangzhu yucong, Zhou Dynasty craftspeople also produced yucong replicating the Liangzhu design. Since they had better techniques and tools, the Jin Kingdom yucong have smoother lines than their Liangzhu counterparts. Meanwhile, the classic Liangzhu mythical creature motifs evolved into the common yunlei (clouds and thunders) patterns.
Other exhibits at the show are arranged according to different burial chambers and jade types. The most common types are yuhuang (玉璜) and yubi (玉璧).
Yubi, flat jade discs with a circular hole in the center, are common artifacts recovered from the tomb sites. That, to some extent, testifies to the concentration of power and resources in the hands of a small elite. During the Zhou Dynasty, yubi was used to worship the heaven while yucong was to worship the earth.
Yuhuang, arched jade, were often used as accessories. The exhibition shows necklaces made of yuhuang and jade beads, which stood for the qualities and powers the wearer wanted to invoke.
Ancient people believed that jade had a soul inside and was the essence of nature. They compared jade to good virtue and carved it into different handicrafts to praise moral quality.
The Jin Kingdom took the jade culture to a new height. Jade wasn't merely an important symbol of rank, but also began being used in worship and rituals, politics, aesthetics and religion. And after thousands of years, it still influences Chinese people's aesthetics.
Date: Through March 15 (closed on Mondays), 9am-5pm
Venue: Liangzhu Museum
Address: 1 Meilizhou Rd, Yuhang District