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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Jade Burial Suit – Legend or Reality

Jade Burial Suit

Jade Burial Suit

Jade Suits like this one are ceremonial burial suits used nearly 2,000 years ago by royal members of the Han Dynasty in China for burial. This Jade shroud was for Liu Xiu, King of Zhongshan. The pieces of jade are mostly rectangular or square and joined using gold wire threaded through small holes drilled near the corners of each piece.

The type of wire used was dependent on the status of the person buried. The jade burial suits of emperors used gold thread. Princes, princesses, dukes, and marquises used silver thread. Sons or daughters of those were given copper thread. Lesser aristocrats were given silk thread, and all others were forbidden to be buried in jade burial suits.

This Jade Burial Suit is made from a green jade with impurities showing as coloured patches. The suit is made up of over 1,200 jade disks tied with 2,567 gold threads. The suit is made up of five sections: the head, jacket, trousers, shoes and gloves. There is a round disk of jade on the crown of the head. The face and nose parts are made of a convex shape. The glove sections are fist-shaped.

A jade burial suit was expensive, and only wealthy aristocrats could afford to be buried in them. The process of manufacturing a suit was labour-intensive and is estimated to have required several years to complete a single outfit.

Jade Burial Suit

Jade Burial Suit – Legend or Reality?

Jade suits were first documented in Chinese literature around AD 320. However, for many years the world suspected that stories and records of jade burial suits were only legends. The first discovery of two complete jade suits in ancient tombs was made in 1968 which finally proving their existence. These newly discovered jade suits consisted of thousands of plates of solid jade connected with significant amounts of gold wires. Since then, others have been found; apparently, Jade burial suits were relatively common among the wealthiest aristocrats of the Han Dynasty. Unfortunately, many more have been lost due to grave robbers.

Jade

Jade is an ornamental mineral which features prominently in ancient Asian art, as well as having a prominent place in many other cultures. In prehistoric and ancient China, Jade was used for creating many utilitarian and ceremonial objects and became an “imperial gem”. In the history of Chinese Art, jade has had a special significance, comparable with that of gold and diamonds in the West.

Jade has been valued across many ancient Asian cultures, especially Korea, Burma, Philippines and India. Additionally, New Zeland Māori and Mesoamerican indigenous cultures valued jade was valued as an elite good.

Jade – Did you know?

  • The English word jade is derived from the Spanish term first recorded in 1565 meaning “loin stone”, signifying its reputation in curing ailments of the loins and kidneys.
  • Today, Burma is the origin of more than 70 per cent of the world’s supply of high-quality jade.
  • Jade is called “greenstone” in New Zealand English.
  • Today, some consumer trade Jade is artificially enhanced to improve colour and texture.

Jade Burial Suit

  • Title:                   Jade Burial Suit
  • Year:                   206 BC to AD 8
  • Period:               Han Dynasty
  • Find site:            Bajiaolangcun, Dingxian, Hebei Province, China
  • Discovered:       1973
  • Material:            Jade burial suit laced with gold thread
  • Dimensions:      Length 182 cm, Width at shoulders 49 cm
  • Museum:           The National Museum of China

A Tour of China’s Museums

Reflections

  • What other ancient legends and stories remain undiscovered and unproven?
  • Does Jade play a significant role in your culture?

~~~

“It is easy to find a thousand soldiers,
but hard to find a good general.”

– Chinese Proverb

~~~


Photo Credit: 1)Wng at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

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