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[TIDBITS] The Jadeite Lady


The Jadeite Lady

In issue number 4 I wrote a very short piece entitled “The
Chinese Doctor’s Lady.” We’re talking over three years ago
folks…at the very inception of Tidbits. The article concerned
itself with ancient Chinese etiquette which prohibited doctors
from examining their female patients. In order for the patient
to show the doctor where it hurt, she would point to a statuette
the physician had on his desk, and show him, and based on this,
he would offer her the remedy to her ills.

Often, the doctor’s statuette was made of Jadeite, the most
valuable and desirable grade of Jade available. The material has
a semi-transparent to opaque look to it, and comes in a variety
of colors, ranging from white to green to brown, and many
variations stemming from those colors.

There are many mythological beliefs attached to this stone,
among them the following virtues. In an old Chinese encyclopedia
of the Ming dynasty–circa 1596–the following attributes are
granted to Jade and it’s cousins, including Jadeite and
Nephrite. When reduced to a powder the size of rice grains, Jade
strengthens the lungs, the heart, and the vocal organs…as well
as prolongs life. Ponce de Leon–for you historians, was clearly
on the wrong track. One way of ingesting the mineral was to
concoct a drink called the “Divine Liquor of Jade.” I have the
formula for this–believe it or not–but have decided not to pass
it on. Trade secrets to be used later on in life when I open my
new school on Alchemy and the Secret Cures for all Ills. Medicine
is medicine and magic is magic…and never the twain shall meet.

More attributes of Jade were–and probably still are–the
ability to strengthen muscles, and harden bones…to calm the
mind, to enrich the flesh, and to purify the blood. Additionally,
should someone dose themselves with the correct elixir and should
they continue the treatment for the allotted time, they would
cease to suffer from either heat, or cold, or hunger, or thirst.

No wonder then that this material was used as the statuettes in
the doctors’ offices of that time. Now then, the reason I bring
this all up–some of it for the second time–is that I found a
picture of m’lady, made of white and brown jadeite, resting on a
wooden platform, ready to lie on the physician’s desk for the
patient to point to while hanging her head in modesty, showing
the doctor just where it was that it hurt. It’s a beautiful
piece, and it wouldn’t be right of me if I didn’t share it with
all of you.

So…to my home page folks! Quick! Down the table menu, to
Tidbits Graphics, and the Jadeite Lady…and click!

And there ya have it.
That’s it for this week folks.
Catch you all next week.
Benjamin Mark

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A figurine of Jade(1) , even more precious than silver (2) would
only be found in the most aristocratic homes. More common would
be figurines in ivory and soapstone. I haven’t seen them in
other materials although they must have existed. That is
because the surviving ones are collectables and figurines of
baser materials would have long been discarded or rotted.
Plastic and ivory ones are still made as “tourist” curiosities.

(2) In traditional China Silver was the premium precious metal
and when the Chinese would not take anything other than silver
in payment for “all the tea in China.” The exhaustion of the
silver reserves in England caused the British to resort to
exporting and later forcing Indian opium on China, the only
other goods the Chinese would accept. That resulted in The
Opium Wars and the series of humiliating impositions that almost
destroyed China starting 250 years ago.

I had always thought gold more precious than silver but after
reading Chinese history on the role of silver, gold does come
across with a value as jewelry but none or little as a monetary
item. National and personal wealth was measured in silver.

(1) I had always associated Jadeite as the only true Chinese
Jade. Nephrite which often can in other colors than green was
looked upon as a "fancy’ best used for carvings of lesser value.
But then I have only a general and passable knowledge of this
subject and work in quite a totally unrelated field.

However, there is an excellent article in the September 1987
issue of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC on Jade (pgs 282-315) which
contained more on the subject that even professional
minerology and gemnology publications had not mentioned, not the
occassional ones I have read anyway.


(pg 293) If ever there was a case of the tail wagging the dog,
it is Burmese Jadite… Virtually unknown in China before 1784,
when a shipment arrived in Beijing following a Burma trade
treaty, the flashier jadeite in 200 years effectively displaced
nephrite for jewelry and commerce, much to the consternation of
serious collectors, who view the import as a young upstart.
After all, any culture that considers everything after the Han
dynasty (206 B.C. - A.D. 220) to be modern history might well
expect to venerate a glorious 5,000-year tradition of subtle
nephrite carvings before directing much attention to shiny green
jadeite jewelry.

(pg 290) In Chinese the word ‘yu’, which we translated as
"jade," actually refers to any rock being carved. Some 30 to 40
kinds in China are called yu. To complicate the matter further,
there are actually two chemically distinct materials that the
world legally accepts as jade: nephrite(‘lao-yu’, old jade, or
’bai-yu’, white jade). Both aretechnically rocks, since they
are mineral aggregates.

The more plentiful nephrite, a silicate of calcium and magnesium
(usually with some iron), is the jade from Hotan. It is also
found in British Columbia, Australia, New Zealand, The U.S.S.R.,
South Korea, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, Taiwan, California,
Alaska, Wyoming, and in small amounts at a few other sites.
With the same Chemical composition, a white stone with regular
crystals is tremolite and a green one, actinolite. It is
nephrite only when its needle shaped grains are tightly
interwoven in a felted, fibrous structure-aphysical state
produced during its underground formation. Nephrite (5.55 to
6.5 on the Moh’s scale) is harder thean most steel (5.0 to 6.0)
and reputedly the toughest of all rocks, a measure of resistance
to breaking. Depending on trace elements, nephrite occurs in a
variety of colors, including “mutton fat” white, which the
Chinese long favored.

Jadeite, a silicate of sodium and aluminium, has the bright
green associated with jewelry, though it is also found in a
rainbow of less valuable colors: lavender, black, white, duller
greens. Commercially it comes only from Burma, Guatemala, and
the U.S.S.R., though small amounts have been found in
Swiutzerland, Japan and California. Jadeite (Moh’s 6.5 to 7.0)
is slightly harder than nephrite but is not as tough.

As usual the National Geographic publishes first class research
and pictures and that article should be read.

Kelvin Mok (

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