Many countries have jadeware culture, but none of them has as long a history as China has. China's jadeware culture has undergone a long process of development from the New Stone Age 10,000 years ago to the present.
The earliest jadeware found in China was a piece of serpentine stoneware unearthed in the site of the lmmortal Cave in Haicheng of Liaoning Province dating back to the New Stone Age, more than 12,000 years ago. The second was a small hanging jade article excavated in the site of Hemudu in Zhejiang Province dating back more than 7,000 years. Jadeware in that period was mainly used for personal decoration. A large number of exquisite jade objects were produced 4,000 years ago. Jadeware at that time was mainly used for witchcraft and as an emblem of privileges.
During the Shang Dynasty (B.C 1600--B.C 1066,) craftsmen used metal tools to make new progress in jadeware models and sculpture. Round jade articles increased in number and jadeware was often given as gifts. The jade-carving technique developed fast in the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods (B.C 770--B.C 221.) The Spring and Autumn period was known for its well- carved and exquisite jadeware. The coherent and undulating patterns of dragon, phoenix and Panli (a figure of Chinese folklore) on the jade decorations are still treasured today.
In the periods of the Qin and Han dynasties (B.C221--A.D220), jadeware became more practical and objects such as jade tablets fell out of use. At that time, people began to believe in the power of jadeware to increase longevity. They thought they would live forever like gods if they had jadeware. Therefore, the practice of burying the dead with jadeware became common. Invaluable jade figures and clothes sewn with gold threads have been found in tombs dating back to the Han dynasty.
During the periods of the Three Kingdoms (A.D220--280) to Song and Yuan dynasties (A.D 960--1368), there was no great development in the jade-carving technique. This changed in the Ming Dynasty when many still famous craftsmen emerged. White jade vessels with gold holders and white jade bowls with gold covers, which were unearthed in the Ming Tombs, reflected the dynasty's peak level in jade carving. The jadeware technique peaked in the Qing Dynasty ( A.D 1644--1911) under the advocacy of Emperor Qianlong .
The patterns of China's jadeware have rich connotations showing strong auspicious colours. Bats and gourds were often used as a basis for more than 100 patterns because the Chinese words (bat and gord) sound like "good fortune" in the Chinese language. When a bat was carved on an ancient coin with a hole, it meant fortune was at hand. When many bats were put with birthday peaches, they referred to fortune and longevity. If bats were mixed with sika, birthday peaches and magpies, they also had a good meaning. All these reflected the ancient Chinese people's yearning for a happy life and revealed the essence of China's traditional culture.
Jade in China is varied and can be divided into two categories: hard and soft. Good materials provide strong basics for jadeware carving, but the value of a jade object depends on the skills and reputation of craftsmen, the dates of carving, peculiar modelling and the owner's status. Certainly, different people will have various views on the value of the same jade object. It is difficult to have a unanimous standard. Due to the high value of ancient jadeware, there is an equally long tradition of fake jadeware, which looks much like the real thing. Jadeware collectors should be careful and seek the opinions of professionals before making any major purchases.