- Japanese: 翡翠 (hisui)
Jades, including nephrite and jadeite, are very hard, green-colored types of stone which have been used in China for thousands of years for jewelry and other ornamental products.
Nephrite is a silicate of calcium and magnesium and is generally green in hue, but can also manifest in yellower hues, or in reddish-brown ones. It is mainly found in eastern parts of Central Asia, including Xinjiang (East Turkestan), and has been imported into China from those distant regions for thousands of years, since the Xia Dynasty (c. 2200-1750 BCE?) if not earlier. Jadeite, meanwhile, is a silicate of sodium and aluminum, and was not used in China until the 17th century, when it began to be imported from Burma. Jadeite is always green in hue, but ranges considerably in shade (lightness or darkness of the color).
Two of the most ancient uses for jade in China were for rings called bi, and for burial suits. Bi are simple rings of jade, and have been found in archaeological sites dating back to the earliest recorded times. Their precise function is unclear. Meanwhile, a number of emperors have been found buried in full-body suits made of pieces of jade, linked together by wire. People of the time may have believed the jade had special abilities of keeping one's qi in, granting immortality, or otherwise aiding the late emperor in the afterlife.
In the first century CE, if not earlier, the Han Dynasty employed jade for imperial and royal seals, including ones granted to foreign monarchs as symbol of their legitimacy.
- Gallery label, "A Passion for Jade: The Heber Bishop Collection," Metropolitan Museum, 21 July 2015.