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Qianlong's jade bowl

Hello Orchidians - I am researching Emperor Qianlong’s 3,500 kg jade
bowl and trying to separate fact from fiction and legend. Has anyone
on Orchid seen it inside its pavilion in Beijing? I tried to find a
picture of it online without success. Could it be that the
authorities forbid picture-taking? Is it a Taoist religious work?
There was no mention of it in “Xinjiang’s Jades and Gems” but I also
wonder if the original stone came from Xinjiang.

I am researching Emperor Qianlong's 3,500 kg jade bowl 

Not sure where you were looking Peter, but I found this easily. It
is called the “Dushan Jade Bowl”. Did you mean a different bowl?
This is a nice site with a good description:

And from a different page, this is a different bowl but also
describes the Dushan Jade:

“The Dushan Jade Bowl measures over 23 1/2 inches in height and over
50 inches in length. Its exterior is carved with dragons and other
monsters, some aquatic and some aerial, on a background of swirling
waters. This basin is believed to have been commissioned in 1265 by
Kublai Khan (r. 1260-95), who had it placed in the Guanghan Palace
on the Hill of Myriad Years, located on an island in Beihai Lake,
Beijing. It is generally believed that the Dushan Jade Bowl was
removed from the palace during the massive destruction that marked
the transition from the Yuan to the Ming dynasty.About 1745, the
Dushan Jade Bowl was recovered by the Qianlong emperor from priests
using it to serve vegetables in the Chen Wu Miao, a Daoist temple
dedicated to Xuan Wu, the guardian of the Northern Quarter. The
emperor had a pavilion erected to display his treasure in the Round
Fort near Beihai Park. He was so entranced by this work that he
wrote three poems about the Dushan Jade Bowl and had them inscribed
on it.”

Hope this helps.

Lisa (Terracing, planting, plumbing…in 105CB9A heat. UGH. Goats
don’t seem to mind much. The bunny does.) Topanga, CA, USA

Thank you very much Lisa. “The Stone of Heaven” (TSOH) by Levy and
Scott-Clark starts with the “passion” of Emperor Qianlong for jade
and his purchase of the Dushan Jade Bowl from Taoist monks in 1745.
The book never refers to Dushan so I could not find it by Googling
with the key words from TSOH.

TSOH tells us the origin of the bowl is murky and legendary. Marco
Polo claimed to have seen it (1275-1292) but did it really originate
with Kublai Khan in Khotan (later Xinjiang)?

Qianlong recarved it and had his poetry inscribed on it so do we
even know what the original was like? He also had replicas carved
according to TSOH but the book does not say how many. Do we know the
one in the URL below is the original? Does it matter?

To bring the story up to date, there seems to be a “biggest jade
bowl” contest underway. Dushan bowl is 23 1/2 inches high and 50
inches wide. Shang Wenzhong’s jade bowl is lighter but wider so who
gets into Guiness Records (with valuable related publicity) for
world’s biggest jade bowl?

I would like to enter the contest. Further to the recent discussion
on Orchid concerning robotic carving, can someone sell me a robotic
carving machine which will do the job?

Dr McHalsie says the Sto:lo Nation here carved jade before settlers
arrived. They lost the skill as they lost almost all of the original
60,000 estimated population (even today only 8,000). They lost most
of their culture which included apartment-like buildings up to one
hectare under a single roof and a now extinct sheep dog which was
literally that - they sheared it for wool. Leaming suggests that they
may have imported it already carved (eg from Mexico where jade was
carved for centuries) but he is not sure. I just viewed a Sto:lo jade
chizel for example - imported or local? Why not make a modern Sto:lo
jade bowl bigger than any bowl in China and reap the free publicity

I was thinking of a garden bird-bath shaped bowl with Sto:lo motifs
engraved to start. The robotic program (software) must be easily
scaled up or down, depending on the orders of the client.

(No wise cracks like “your jade is for the birds”!)

I will be in Beijing last week of October first week of November,
when you let me know the name of the museum I will take some
pictures for you and collect any additional information

You are very fortunate to be making this trip, Peter. I think the
Chinese tradition in stone cutting and carving is so different from
the western that any insights you gain will benefit the Orchid list.
After Xinjiang’s Jades and Gems I went on to “The Stone of Heaven” by
Levy and Scott-Clark and I will send in material as I think it is on

I am starting Ch 3 now and so far the book is all about Emperor
Qianlong’s “passion” for jade. The book reads somewhat like a mystery
novel. We are told that ruthless warfare and diplomacy with Burma
were focused on gaining the mineral wealth of its jade which he
placed above gold. The statesman Chi Yun opined that this was not
"real jade" (ie the traditional nephrite jade of China) so why all
the bother? (page 22). The mystery in this book which reads like a
novel/documentary hybrid is the jade bowl which you may see in
Beijing. It is hinted that the original bowl contained a treasure
map guide to the source of Burmese jade and that Qianlong erased it
and inserted his own carvings as well as his poetry on the inside
called Song of the Jade Bowl (page 6). The Song was first carved onto
10 jade tablets. Do they also exist today?

No doubt the replicas of the bowl were done very well because the
penalty for not pleasing the emperor was great. How many were made
does not seem to be known. Nor is there any statement on how many
survive. Your trip may answer that question. But the wisdom in
replicating a priceless work of art is easily seen. Perhaps Torart
could tell us how it is doing with its robotic replication of the
priceless Pieta from Vatican and whether they have any comparable

Today we have more modern methods than hand-carving replicas. I
would like to purchase a robotic carving machine which can scan the
priceless Transformer Stone Statue of the Sto:lo Nation (located
where Vancouver and its burbs stand today) which stands about as tall
as the jade bowl and then we can make replicas. The original which is
in the possession of Dr McHalsie is an excellent work of art. IMO the
photograph of it as in the Sto:lo Atlas by McHalsie et al does not do
it justice.

If you Google Seabird College you will see that Sto:lo have a
college on Seabird Reservation which is their largest (in area) and
it has the start of an AI program. Perhaps we could locate the
robotic carver there after a PPP (Public-Private Partnership) on the
costs. But I repeat that for us to gamble on the revenue is enough
and those who sell the robot should not expect us to also gamble on
the costs. We need to know all costs in advance.

Meanwhile, my “passion” is the mystery of jade and not the rock per
se. Jade had both literal and metaphorical meaning to the Chinese
(and also the First Nations of Ancient Mexico). The metaphor of
virtue seems to have trumped the literal features in Qianlong’s case
and that is what I am trying to understand better. We are told that
the Emperor appeared to be pondering whether the jade bowl “had
feelings” (page 6) but the entire Song of the Jade Bowl is not given
so how can we tell? Nevertheless, “The Book of Changes states that
Heaven is Jade” (page 25) so Qianlong was not alone in projecting
ultimate virtue onto jade.

Are the bowl and replicas really of such high value from a raw stone
perspective? Maybe your trip can answer that question because works
of sculpting are not well represented in photographs. The Taoist
monks used the bowl for storing cabbage before the emperor bought it
and deemed it more valuable than gold. Therefore if we analyze it
according to the three gemological criteria of beauty, rarity and
durability what do we get? Its beauty is perhaps 90% in the carving
and 10% in the stone. Its rarity is in its origin and history as well
as carving. Its durability is passable - a sledge hammer could
destroy it in a second.

In conclusion, the jade bowl is a story which Qianlong the author
and poet knowingly left for posterity and how well any story is told
determines its value.

Your insights after the visit will be most welcomed.

This bowl is amazing, but what blew my mind was the rigidly
geometric swastika carved on the base. It really stood out, not in a
good way, and did not seen Asian in character at all. WTF?

but what blew my mind was the rigidly geometric swastika carved on
the base. It really stood out, not in a good way, and did not seen
Asian in character at all. WTF? 

The swastika originated as an Indian religious symbol apparently. It
is often used in Hinduism and Buddhism. It means “to be good”. It was
only later adopted by the Nazi party in Germany in 1920. The Nazis
used the swastika the other way round to that used by Asian
religions. This is according to Wikipedia (not the most reliable
source of I know, but in this instance I have no reason
not to believe the article).



Umm the equilateral cross AKA Swastika which was appropriated by the
Nazi party in the 1030s has a long history of other uses both
political and non political. In addition it is also a Chinese
character… So yes it would be appropriately found on a Chinese

Here is a starting point to expand your historical horizons beyond
recent history.

This bowl is amazing, but what blew my mind was the rigidly
geometric swastika carved on the base. It really stood out, not in
a good way, and did not seen Asian in character at all. 

Did you think the Nazis invented the swastika? The very name comes
from Sanskrit, and it is widely used in Buddhism and other
religions. It can be either left-facing or right-facing (as the Nazi
party used it) and the left-facing version has even become a
standard Chinese character.

Al Balmer
Pine City, NY

Not sure I should be getting involved in this conversation, but
seriously, the “swastika” as you call it is a pretty ubiquitous
geometric shape throughout all history and culture. Try drawing
"knotwork" patterns, and you’ll find that swastikas form the basis of
the interlace. They are everywhere, including Hindu and Roman art,
and the fact that a vile fascist dictator co-opted the design doesn’t
tell you anything about the design itself.

Jamie Hall

Swastikas were originally a Buddhist symbol.


The swastika you see has two meanings depending on the direction of
the arms. For centuries if not longer, before the time of Hitler and
Nazi’s the symbol was turned the opposite direction and meant good
luck. When it was changed and Hitler adopted it it took on a whole
new meaning. It is well known in many cultures. I personally was
shocked to see it on some ancient Fremont (northern version of
Anasazi Indians) Indian’s petroglyphs just south of St. George Utah.
It wasn’t a recent inclusion but actually placed there around 800AD
by the Indians themselves. I don’t know the meaning they attached to
it, but it definitely predated Hitler. In the Appalachian mountains
a good luck quilt with the opposite turned symbol was given at
weddings again for good luck. Sad that the symbol became something so
evil in meaning.

Old lady in Florida

I believe the swastika originated as a religious symbol thousands of
years BC. Maybe more. It was an adaption of the cross. The modern
use was one person’s adaption of using it. I remember as a kid it was
listed as a religious symbol in logo books. My dad was a sign
painter and had old books of lettering, logos, designs etc. Some
books were way before the war. They may even be in hieroglyphics on
the pyramids with the helicopters!


Thank you for the historical backgrounder. I knew the symbol was
Asian but did not know any other details.

Rest assured though that if I can purchase a stone carving robot
which will make bird bath bowls of this size I will not carve
swastikas on them.

The problem is still that of finding an automation company which
will sell the machine with full cost disclosure.

This bowl is amazing, but what blew my mind was the rigidly
geometric swastika carved on the base. It really stood out, not in
a good way, and did not seen Asian in character at all. 

First, if you had taken the time to google search the word swastika
you would have learned that it has been an important symbol in
legitimate world religions for centuries, and was more recently
hijacked by Naziism for their purposes.

Second, if you look closely you will notice that the swastika on the
jade bowl is reversed from the one used by Nazis.

Third, there’s no place in this forum for the use of vulgarities,
even in an abbreviated form.

It is not in fact a Swastika. It did not become “THE SWASTIKA” until
the Nazi Party inverted the traditional meaning of the symbol. Look
up some Asian history, you will even find the symbol in Buddhist
texts. The original symbol, its original meaning, was pure, and not
at all aligned with Nazi dogma.

This is not a “swastika”. The swastika is reversed. In Native
American culture which also used this decoration on silver work among
other things. It is called “rolling logs”, thought to be the symbol
for wind. I believe it was used in Asia 5,000 years prior to the use
and subsequent corruption of the symbol by the Nazis. The swastika is
distinctly and beautifully “Asian in character”. Its subsequent use
had nothing to do with its prior use. Googling the word might be a
good place to start to find out more about this very ancient symbol.

Lisa (hanging out in Santa Fe, NM for a few days) Topanga, CA USA

When I posted this, I was well aware that the “swastika” was used in
many other cultures before the Nazis corrupted it. I did not know
the Chinese used it however. But it so jarring to see this
beautiful, graceful, flowing bowl decorated with a swastika done in
a right-angle western style that looks very added-on. The two
aesthetics did not mix well in my opinion.


It has been used as a religious symbol/talisman in europe for 3000
years and certainly in the indies for longer than that. Hitler
hijacked it, the olympics etc to provide a false heritage to his
reich. Unfortunately, certain things were corrupted forever whist
others are carried on as a supposed ancient tradition, viz: the
lighting and carrying of the olympic flame.

Nick Royall

...seriously, the "swastika" as you call it is a pretty ubiquitous
geometric shape throughout all history and culture. 

The earliest example which I found is from the Mesopotamian site of
Samarra (ancient Iraq), ca. 5000 BC. It’s a painted decoration in a
pottery bowl, showing birds and fish revolving around a central
"swastika." See p. 171 of the book, Gods, Demons and Symbols of
Ancient Mesopotamia
, by Jeremy Black and Anthony Green (Austin;
1992), where a drawing of the design can be found. Black and Green
note that the symbol is rarely encountered in Mesopotamian art, and
they summarize various unconvincing attempts at interpreting its
meaning. They also note another name (fylfot) for the symbol.

Judy Bjorkman