In order to authenticate and appreciate a particular Chinese jade artifact, the chronology or the period of the Chinese jade is the prerequisite knowledge to have.
The periods of Chinese jades may be divided into the following based on the descriptions from excavation records and the records of the museums :
Hongshan Culture(c. 3500-2200 B.C.)
Liangzhu Culture(c. 3400-2250 B.C.)
Qijia Culture( c. 2000 B.C.)
Sanxingdui Culture(c. 1600 B.C.-221 B.C.)
Longshan Culture(c. 2800B.C.-1700 B.C.)
Xia Dynasty(2183 B.C. – 1751 B.C.)
Shang Dynasty(1766 B.C. – 1122 B.C. )
Western Zhou Dynasty(1122 B.C. -771B.C.)
Spring-Autumn, Warring States & Chin Dynasty( 770B.C. – 206 B.C)
220 B.C. -220 A.D.)
Sui, Tang, Song & Yuan Dynasties( 589 D.D. -1368 A.D.)
Ming & Qing Dynasties( 1368 A.D. – 1911 A.D.)
Hongshan Culture, dated back five to six thousand years and last for two thousand years, covers the areas of southeastern of Inner Mongolia and western Liaoning Province of China. Hongshan Culture has derived its name from the Hongshan Mountain of Chifon inside the Mongolia Autonomy. Hongshan Culture is in the prime time of matrilineal descent society. As a result, the theme of many Hongshan Culture jade artifacts derived from birds and animals of which the designs carried female supple nature. Besides serpentine, many Hongshan Culture artifacts are made of nephrite. The emphasis of the jade artifacts is shaped rather than the lines of curvature appeared on the surface. Simple and round design are usually presented by many Hongshan Culture jade artifacts. Dual holes called holes of bugle shape on the same side of the artifacts are usually seen. It is generally recognized that the dragon and phoenix motifs of Hongshan Culture are the ancestors of those motifs for later periods in the Chinese jade artifact’s history.
Liangzhu Culture(c. 3400-2250 B.C.) Liangzhu Culture can be dated back four to five thousand years. The area covered mainly Lake Tai areas. The variants of jade artifacts of Liangzhu Culture include jade Cong, Jade arched plaque and ax-shape plaque. With the spirit’s face as the major motif, the Liangzhu Culture jade artifacts are featured slim incised lines. The jade artifacts of Liangzhu Culture have two significant elements worth considerations. The first element is the impact on the motifs of jade artifacts of the later periods. The god’s face motif constitutes the major motifs of the Spring and Autumn Period. The curling craws shown under the God’s face constitute the craws of the dragon for the Shang and West Chou periods. Second, many Liangzhu Culture jade artifacts can be seen smooth cut on the surface of the motif that can be interpreted as some kind of records of important events such as prays and sad memories. Due to the extraordinary elegant workmanship, Liangzhu Culture jade artifacts are always the most favorite collection items for professional collectors worldwide. No wonder that the prices of Liangzhu Culture jade artifacts are always high in international auctions.
Qijia Culture( c. 2000 B.C.) Dated back around four thousand years ago, QijiaCulture covers Kansu, Ningsia and Chinghai of the Yellow River Areas. There are many varieties of jade artifacts from Qijia Culture. Most of the jade artifacts unearthed are found with plain surface. Major characteristics of Qijia Culture jade artifacts include single direction hole drilling with irregular edges remains not removed.The typical jade artifacts are fine thin knife with very smooth surface. All the artifacts here have archaic phenomena of differential weathering, cleaving veins and exposed crystals.
Sanxingdui Culture(c. 1600 B.C.-221 B.C.)In 1929, more than four hundred pieces jade artifacts have been found by Yann Dao Chun, a farmer in the Kwanhan City in Szechwan Province in China, whose ancestors have settled there since many generations. The mystery of the Ancient Sze Kingdom has been unveiled since then. In 1986, several thousand pieces of gold, bronze, jade artifacts have been unearthed in Sanxindui by local archeologists. Suddenly, Sanxingdui Culture has been known worldwide. The time period of Sanxingdui Culture is believed to be about the time period of the Dynasties of Xia, Shang and Western Zhou. With skillful carving, most of the jade artifacts of Sanxingdui Culture are made of nephrite. Prominent eyes and wide ears of the priests or knights with special design are believed to be derived from extraterrestrial civilization.
Longshan Culture(c. 2800B.C.-1700 B.C.) Longshan Culture has derived its name from the remains of Longshan Township of Shantung Province. Geologically, Longshan Culture covers mainly lower part of the Yellow River, including the areas of Honan, Shensi and Shantung Provinces. Longshan Culture jade artifacts contain many varieties from jade kwei, jade arched pendant, jade tube, bi-disk and notched bi-disk all of which are carved elegantly and dexterously. Judging the motifs and the style of line carving, the Longshan Culture jades are believed to be the origin of Shang Dynasty jades.
Xia Dynasty(2183 B.C. – 1751 B.C.)
According to “The Age of Xia , Historical Records” of Ssu-Ma Chien, the Xia Dynasty lasts about four hundred years from 2138B.C. to 1751B.C. The Erlitou Culture found in Yensi Hsien of Honan Province in 1975 has been confirmed to be the Xia Culture. From the available Xia Dynasty jade artifacts found, the variety of Xia Culture jade artifacts include jade ring, jade ax, notched zhang, notched bi-disk, arched plaques most of which are rather large and thin in size and have symmetrical lines
Shang Dynasty(1766 B.C. – 1122 B.C. ) According to the old Chinese legend, the Shang ancestor was born from a phoenix which was sent from heaven. As a result, phoenix becomes the major motif of Shang jade artifacts. The Seal of Shang Dynasty of our collections is seen dual phoenix motifs on the base. The variations of Shang jade artifacts are rich. From weighs twenty kilograms to three centimeters in length, the Shang Dynasty jade artifacts include kneeling person, pig, sheep, mythical animal, dinosaur, jar and jade plaques. It should be noted that the Shang Dynasty jade artifacts are not only made of fine quality jade but also are with the extraordinary skillful workmanship. Low relief and streamlined lines done through the reduction of the surface, the square angle curling lines and the smooth dual relief lines are typical for the Shang Dynasty jade artifacts.
Western Zhou Dynasty(1122 B.C. -771B.C.) The style of the carving for Western Zhou is noted for its single and double slant incised carving which is known as the forty-five degree big slant carving and the technique has been discontinued after the Han dynasty. The jade artifacts of the Western Zhou are in high demand for the serious collectors due to their fine workmanship and rareness of the unearthed and transcendental objects.
Spring-Autumn, Warring States & Chin Dynasty( 770B.C. – 206 B.C)The carving style of the jade artifacts for the Spring-Autumn period(B.C.770-B.C.403) is derived from the late Chou dynasty and develops into a more detailed pattern. The bosom motif of auspicious cloud is the typical motif of this period. The jade artifacts of the Spring-Autumn are favorites to many serious collectors. The jade carving of the Warring States(B.C.403-B.C.221) is of exquisite quality. With a streamlined design, most of the motifs are dragons, dancing ladies and crops. The low relief on the surface of the artifact applies abstract and simplified motifs while those carvings extend from the artifact to apply realistic ones.
Han Dynasty( 220 B.C. -220 A.D.)The jade carving technique of the Han dynasty is famous for its straight forwardness and is known as the eight times of carving. The main motif for western Han is the auspicious animal. The size of jade artifacts tends to become large. After eastern Han, the main motifs are the four auspicious creatures (dragon, phoenix, tiger, the couple of snake and turtle), cloud and eagle. Different from previous periods, Han Dynasty jades have modern Chinese characters reading long happiness, suitable for offspring appeared on many bi-disks jades.
Sui, Tang, Song & Yuan Dynasties( 589 D.D. -1368 A.D.) The design of Tang Dynasty jade artifacts is seen to be characterized by reality and its relation to daily life. With a rich tint of Buddhism, many jade Buddhist figures are made during this period. Owing to the particular cultural development such as the Tang trio color ceramics, many jade artifacts are painted with rich colors and gilt with gold. Flying fairy of Buddhist figure is appeared as single piece jade artifacts or constitutes a major motif on the artifacts. Due to the highly developed communication with foreign countries, foreigners visited China quite often that many motifs of the Tang Dynasty are appearing as foreigners from the west which are called Hu people then. The designs of Song, Yuan, Liao and Kim Dynasties jade artifacts are more daily life oriented. The main theme of many Song Dynasty jade artifacts is laid with different posture and the main themes of Liao and Kim Dynasties are the scenes of spring with birds, flowers and ponds, the scenes of autumn mountain with pine trees, deer and animals.
In the Ming Dynasty, the most important jade artifacts are those made by famous craftsman Lu Tzu-kang. The jade plaque made by him has become the standard design which calls Tzu-kang plaque. In the Qing Dynasty, due to the emphasis of jade artifacts from the imperial court, especial from the Emperor Chienlung himself, jade artifacts of the Qing Dynasty become the last high peak in terms of quality and quantity of Chinese jade carving history.