is any of the carved-jade objects produced in China
from the Neolithic Period
(c. 3000–1500 BC) onward. The Chinese regarded carved-jade objects as intrinsically valuable, and they metaphorically equated jade with human virtues because of its hardness, durability, and (moral) beauty.
Jade has been used in virtually all periods of Chinese history
and generally accords with the style of decorative art
characteristic of each period. Thus, the earliest jades, of the Neolithic Period, are quite simple and unornamented; those of the Shang
(18th–12th century BC), Zhou
(1111–255 BC), and Han
(206 BC–AD 220) dynasties
are increasingly embellished with animal and other decorative motifs characteristic of those times; in later periods ancient jade shapes, shapes derived from bronze vessels
, and motifs of painting
were used, essentially to demonstrate the craftsman
's extraordinary technical facility.
Jade objects of early ages (Neolithic through Zhou) fall into five categories: small decorative and functional ornaments such as beads, pendants, and belt hooks; weapons and related equipment meant more for ceremonial than for practical use; independent sculptural forms (especially of real and mythological animals), perhaps used as talismans; small objects of probably emblematic value, including the huan (a braceletlike disk with a large hole), the huang (a flat, half-ring pendant), the han (ornaments, often carved in the shape of a cicada, to be placed in the mouth of the dead), and the zhang and gui (flat, bladelike tablets that served as official insignia of the owner); and many examples of larger objects — such as the cong (a hollow cylinder or truncated cone) and the bi (a flat disk with a hole in its center) — with certain essential shapes that have invited much speculation as to value and function.