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Working jade

Jade working in China spans over 6,000 years. The process involves cutting, abrading, and polishing the stone. Jade artist Yun Sang Leung demonstrates these techniques. Jade, especially the cicada shape, symbolizes rebirth and is highly valued in Chinese culture. Modern artisans continue this tradition using updated tools. Created by Asian Art Museum.

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Video transcript

Jade working in China dates back more than 6,000 years The Chinese term for jade is "yu". This term refers to a variety of hard stones that are either transparent or semi-transparent. The two main stones are nephrite, found in many parts of the world, and jadeite. In China, the best nephrite is found in the river beds near Hetian in Xinjiang Province. Jadeite was imported from Burma beginning around the 1700s. Jade is too hard to be carved. In the past, artisans shaped jade by abrading it with various tools worked with sand and water. The working of jade can be seen as a three-step process: 1. Cutting the overall shape. 2. Abrading the details. 3. And polishing the surface. This is Yun Sang Leung, a jade artist who lives in Niagara Falls, Canada. Mr. Leung apprenticed in Hong Kong and worked jade there for many years. He demonstrates the old method of using a bow and abrasives to saw a talisman. Today, artisans use power tools such as a dentist's drill. The bits are covered with ground diamonds. Mr. Leung is demonstrating jade working using modern methods. He makes, however, an ancient shape. The cicada, modeled on one in the [Asian Art] Museum collection about 2,000 years old, is associated with the concept of rebirth. Cicadas live underground for years. In the final stage of their life, they emerge above ground. In Ancient China, a cicada like this would have been placed on the tongue of a deceased person as a way of preserving the vital energy in the body. According to an old Chinese saying, "Gold is valuable, but jade is invaluable." The Book of Rites, compiled about 2300 years ago, states: "If a ruler observes the rites of the state, white jade will appear in the valley." Confucius noted that "the wise have likened jade to virtue." Jade is still highly valued by the Chinese people. Artisans produce both traditional and contemporary forms, employing modern technologies. Jade work is surely one of the world's oldest artistic traditions.