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February 24, 2019

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Jade treasure fit for a great king

YU was a legendary figure in Chinese mythology, famed for his contribution to flood control. During the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors period, serious flooding occurred in Zhongyuan, or the Central Plain — the area on the lower reaches of the Yellow River.

Gun, father of Yu, was tasked to solve the flood problem.

He spent nine years building dams and filling soil in flood areas but still failed to control the flood.

Taking the place of his father, Yu bore the burden of finding a solution.

Based on research, Yu adopted the method of dredging silty riverbeds and designed a system of irrigation canals, just the opposite to his father’s way — directly damming the water’s flow.

In Hejin of Shanxi Province, a mountain named Longmen got in the way of the water.

Yu led locals to make a hole in the mountain by using chisels. Flowing through the channel, the flood was relieved. In honor of Yu, the channel was later known as the “Yu’s Gateway.”

Yu was dedicated to the flood control. According to documents, during the 13-year campaign, Yu stayed with the workers and passed by his house three times but never entered it.

It is said that Yu heard the groan of his wife in labor and the baby crying when he went by his home for the first time.

He saw his wife and son waving and saying hello to him on the second occasion.

For the third time, eager for Yu’s coming, Yu’s son pulled his father violently but Yu told his son that he couldn’t return home yet as the task hadn’t been completed.

According to ancient documents, Yu established the Xia Dynasty (2070-1600 BC), probably the first dynasty in traditional Chinese history.

The ancient legend “Yu the Great Controls the Waters” has been passed down from generation to generation in China along with Yu’s dedication to the country and his perseverance.

Emperor Qianlong (1711-99) was also encouraged by Yu’s spirit. One of his favorite paintings portrayed Yu’s story.

Created in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the paint had faded and the paper was worn.

Coincidently, a huge jade rock weighing over 6 tons was found in Hetian in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, one of the world’s most famous jade-producing areas.

Emperor Qianlong was thrilled by the news and asked people to draw inspiration from the painting and carve Yu’s story on the rare boulder.

Highly valuing the artwork, he told officials that he would check the design and supervise the manufacturing process in person.

It is estimated that three years would have been needed to free such a large piece of jade from the mountainside and then transport it from the quarry in the far west to Beijing.

Without modern hoists and lorries, the journey of more than 4,000 kilometers relied on manual and animal labor.

Emperor Qianlong was a jade enthusiast and set up an organization specializing in making jade artworks at the Hall of Mental Cultivation in the Forbidden City.

The imperial workshop was in charge of the design of the jade artwork.

The boulder was sent to Yangzhou in Jiangsu Province in 1781.

The craftsmen in Yangzhou were good at carving large jade and renowned for a technique named “Shanzi carving,” which combines various means such as relief and line carving.

The technique was created in the Song Dynasty and reached its peak in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

All the craftsmen involved in the project were carefully selected.

It is said that it took six years just to carve the jade into a mountain shape and another year to polish the artwork which is engraved with trees, waterfalls, creeks, cliffs and groups of laborers holding chisels to cleave the mountain along with Yu the Great.

In the middle of the front of the jade sculpture, viewers can find an Emperor Qianlong’s seal which reads “a family of five generations enjoying five blessings, the longevity of 70 years.”

At the back of the jade mountain, another seal of the emperor carved with the Chinese characters meaning “commemorating eighty years of age” is engraved along with his poem.

Over 60 centimeters long, a copper stand inlaid with gold threads supports the artwork, the largest of its kind in the world. It has been displayed at the Hall of Joyful Longevity in the Forbidden City since its completion in 1787.

Weight: 5,300 kg

Height: 224 cm

Width: 96 cm

Period: the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)


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