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April 25, 2011

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Yangzhou carves jade niche

YANGZHOU City in Jiangsu Province is best known for its sumptuous breakfast, that includes all kinds of baozi (steamed buns), noodles and local tea, and the "three knives" (the kitchen knife, pedicure knife and barber's knife).

But for many collectors, Yangzhou is also a mecca for jade carving hunting. The city's produce of jade carvings are delicate, graceful, elegant and exquisite.

The tradition of jade carving in Yangzhou goes back over thousands of years. By the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, Yangzhou jade carving reached new heights, developing new skills in lattice-carving.

Yangzhou jade carvings are made from two main types of jade: nephrite and jadeite.

Nephrite comes in a wide range of colors such as soft green, pale gray and white with a smooth texture, while jadeite has much brighter colors such as vivid emerald green and rich lavender.

However, the industry began to decline after 1840, when jade as an ornamental stone became too expensive to acquire. Many artisans immigrated to Shanghai and Hong Kong. It was after the 1950s, with the establishment of Yangzhou Jade Factory that this craft revived.

Now, more than 40 pieces of jade carving artwork are on display at Yangzhou through the end of this month to celebrate the 55th anniversary of award-winning Yangzhou Jade Factory.

The majority of this jade exhibition, with over 40 representative works produced by the factory's master jade carvers, is on loan from collectors all over China, and many of the pieces are displayed for the first time.

Great pot

The Dragon Lucky Chain Pot, also known as the Red Sun Pot, features a chained pot with its body carved with dragon pattern.

"It is hard to believe that this piece was almost thrown away in the past," said Liang Fei, deputy director of Yangzhou Jade Factory.

The pot was made in 1996 from a piece of superior raw white jade, that was almost perfect except for an orange-colored lump.

It was first designed as a pot, but after much thought and time spent carving the jade, the craftsman wanted to throw it out due to the orange anomaly. But, he finally decided to keep it and turn the orange lump into a sun-shaped pattern, and the Red Sun Pot was born.

Now, this strange piece is a precious historical treasure, and experts claim the orange lump makes the pot more attractive.

Double bottle

The Double Bottle with Inner Chain was made by the late jade carving master Liu Xiaohua in 1988.

The most attractive feature of this object is the connecting chain of the double bottle which is inside the bottle and connected to the bottle cap. The chain is movable.

This irreplaceable artwork is representative of Yangzhou's exquisite jade carving craft.

According to factory deputy director Liang, the piece is so remarkable that it became an instant hit with collectors after it was made. It is now in the hands of an anonymous owner.

The factory spent a lot of efforts to trace the owner and persuaded him to lend it for the exhibition.

Charming couple

Many people can't understand why two simple bowls are considered a superior jade carving artwork, but experts insist the Couple Bowl has its own charm.

According to Liang, it is really hard to successfully carve two bowls that are identical in size, shape and thickness, a feat Jiang Chunyuan achieved with the Couple Bowl. Adopting Chinese painting elements with anaglyphic carving style depicting fishermen, fishing boats and fish makes the bowls a perfect artwork.

Night Mooring at Maple Bridge was created by Gu Yongjun, one of China's most famous jade carving masters.

Gu says to create this artwork he used a sugar-color piece of jade and three different carving techniques.

The piece won the Gold Award at the 2006 China Jade Exhibition Competition and is now owned by Shanghai's Jinhutang Tea House.

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