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October 18, 2011

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Changing ideas about jade

JADE is a precious stone throughout Asia although perhaps no country cherishes it quite as much as China.

Many Chinese believe that wearing jade jewelry will bring good luck and keep evil away. Devotees of various religions such as Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Islamism have often used jade to depict gods and goddesses.

A good example is the giant jade Buddha carving at the Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai.

Others simply think jade jewelry looks great.

Skyworld Art Center has an exhibition featuring all things jade until the end of November.

Sherry Shi, organizer of the exhibition, says the exhibit is all about making people realize that jade can be used for more items than just pendants and bracelets.

"Jade is a unique stone in the East, we want jade culture to become a part of everyday life," she says. "It adds glamour to one's appearance and makes life less ordinary."

Aside from jade jewelry, the exhibit may surprise some as the cups, vases, pencil holders and fruit plates on display are all made of jade.

Chinese generally consider jade as too precious and expensive to be used for such ordinary objects, Shi says. She says these items are made with Hindustan jade, which is cheaper than Hetian jade.

Zhang Minghua, an ancient jade expert at Shanghai History Museum, says Hindustan jade was first found in Pakistan, Iran and Turkey and was introduced to Emperor Qianlong during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Hindustan jade

"At that time, Qianlong married a concubine named Xiangfei who came from today's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region," Zhang says. "The girl gave the emperor many objects made of Hindustan jade, which sparked his interest in the stone. Emperor Qianlong who named it as Hindustan jade in Chinese."

Zhang says Hindustan jade is not as well known to the public, but that it is of similar quality to Hetian jade.

Hindustan jade is a milky, fine-grained and "oily" stone that is mined on the north side of Kunlun Mountain in Xinjiang. "Over-mining of Hetian jade opens up the market for Hindustan jade," Zhang adds.

The exhibition's highlight is a 2-meter-high jade carving of the Buddhism goddess Guanyin, which is worth about 18 million yuan (US$2.8 million). It was created by She Guozhen, a veteran craftsman from Fujian Province.

"I and my students spent nearly two years on this Guanyin," She says. "I was so excited when I found such a big block of jade to make this Guayin. It is a dream come true for me."

She says that carving such a big block of jade is difficult because once a cut is made, it can't be adjusted or amended.

Meanwhile, the organizer Shi says they sought out young artists to add a modern approach to jade. For example, "Cat Walking on the Piano" features a series of geographic shaped keys with a coarse surface, as if a cat has just walked over them.

Shi says they are also working with Tongji University and some European designers and craftsmen to introduce new concepts and ideas for jade use.

Date: Through November 30, 9am-7pm

Address: 118 Fuzhou Rd


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