Nephrite Jade has been used in Chinese culture since Neolithic times (5000 BC). During this period nephrite jade was first used by the Ancient Chinese to produce ornaments, tools and weapons, the “toughness” qualities of Nephrite make it ideal for these purposes. Jade has always been a special stone, used not just for fine objects but also as material for grave goods for the imperial family. It is believed to be a link between both the physical and the spiritual worlds and is the only material that completely encapsulates both the yin and yang qualities of Heaven and Earth, earning it the moniker The Stone of Heaven. During the Shang Dynasty (1600 B.C. to 1050 B.C), jade was used for personal adornment by kings, as well as for utilitarian and ceremonial objects. Jade knives, daggers and objects imbued with royal meanings like scepters and jade burial suits have been found in tombs most likely used for ritual or military ceremonies. Nephrite became known as "yu", or the Imperial gem. Royal Chinese Dynasties had it carved into precious jewelry and decorations and for a large period of China’s history only these dynasties were allowed to possess Jade. By 200 B.C., when the Book of Songs was written during the Zhou dynasty, the stone was established as an aid to immortality. It would continue to be used in burial rituals well into the Han Dynasty.
Towards the end of the Tang Dynasty (900 AD), funerary practises changed and by the time the modern Ming and Qing dynasties rolled around in the 16th century, the stone had become more referential and was primarily used as material for objects d'art of the imperial court.
Jade mines in China have long been depleted, but the association and love for this stone endures with the Chinese. Although prized by other civilisations as well as the Chinese, no other culture can rival China for the richness and intricacy of the jade rings, bracelets, beads and pendants found there. Today the majority of Nephrite jade carved in China is sourced from the mountainsides and valleys of British Columbia where it is mined and exported to China and other Asian countries to be carved by artisans into
Jade ornaments have remained popular up until the present day. The purchase, wearing, and giving of jade items as gifts is still very common. Jade is viewed as an ideal gift for couples making a mutual commitment, and for one's children when they get married. Even now, the Chinese retain the idea that in addition to being beautiful, jade can protect from misfortune and bring good luck.
Today, traditional forms and modern styles are combined into striking new creations, and modern technology has greatly elevated the quality of workmanship. No longer is jade for the exclusive use of emperors and noblemen; just about everyone has the means to own and wear jade. Beyond maintaining its historical role, jade artistry has been further developed with creativity and skill, and has become an indispensable part of everyday life. Jade remains an eternal symbol of China's magnificent civilization.