|Diamonds reproduce their splendor by consuming sunlight, but jade recreates its luster by tasting moonlight.
Diamonds flash their sparkle and glory for the entire world to see while jade invites that soft beauty inwards, to the
most deepest and private part of itself. That is why many Westerners cherish the former whereas many from the Far
East prefer the latter. To compare the two further, diamonds are gems symbolizing the virtues
of the Western world, which values expressing one’s own ideas or feelings openly, while
jade represents the Eastern ideal of modesty as the most valuable quality of all.
In the East, jade is not regarded as a simple jewelry but as a gem that has been honored as
the heart and soul of the universe, created from the quintessence of the cosmos coalesced.
In the Book of Rites, one of the Five Confucian Classics, ancient Chinese sages highly
praised jade by comparing its noble character with the four virtues of which a man of
honor should be equipped: goodness, righteousness, wisdom and courage. Since
then, jade has continued to be associated with the most respectable qualities a man
can possess. As well, jade works have been used widely for use in people’s daily
lives, from personal ornaments to items for religious events, and even priceless
treasures. Archaeological relics excavated from the tombs of ancient Chinese
kingdoms such as Shang and Zhou include many jade pieces, demonstrating
the belief that jade works buried in tombs with the dead would ensure a
prosperous life in the underworld.
With its elegant color and warm, soft character, jade has also been loved by Koreans,
who think the gemstone perfectly matches their personality: polite, patient and
determined. In Korea, jade has been said to be a mysterious stone that brings good
health, long life and good fortune, and has been used as a symbol of royal authority or
the royal family. In fact, Koreans used a word meaning ‘jade’ for anything related to the
king or kingship, for example, by calling the throne a ‘jade seat;’ the king’s hands as
‘jade hands;’ his face as a ‘jade face;’ his walk as a ‘jade walk;’ and his seal as a
‘jade seal.’ Jade has been loved extensively in Korea even among the common people,
so much so that they used the word, jade, for newly-born baby boys by calling them
‘jade boys’ and gave the word to the name of their daughters.
Korean people also believed that jade had the magical power of dispelling diseases and evil spirits, and some
even used it as an ingredient in certain medicines. The tradition still exists, and some try to heal diseases by the
mysterious energy believed to disseminate from jade. The beneficial effect of Korean jade on the human body has
recently been known in foreign countries. In 1999, a group of Ukrainian children, all victims of the accident at the
Chernobyl nuclear power plant, visited Chuncheon, the city where the Korea’s largest jade mine is located, and
received a special ‘radioactivity clean-up’ program that involved drinking ‘jade spring water’ and wearing clothes
soaked in jade energy. The program was found to have improved the health of the children.
Even though jade is a rare precious stone, it is only a rock if it is not carved and polished into a
beautiful form. The excavation of jade artifacts from Bronze Age tombs in Korea reveals the long
history of the art of jade carving in the nation. The various jade ornaments found from the tombs of
the Three Kingdoms Period (57 B.C.-668 A.D., the period when the three ancient Korean kingdoms,
Koguryo, Baekje and Silla, rivaled each other), including comma-shaped and tubular jade pieces
as well as jade beads attached to gold crowns, earrings, bracelets, rings,
necklaces and swords demonstrate that the art of jade carving had already
been highly developed at the time. In the following Goryeo Dynasty
(918-1392), jade artisans developed the technique of engraving various
designs onto jade objects, while in the Joseon period (1392-1910) the
items made of jade became much more diverse and included seals, sarira
containers, water droppers, piri (flute-like instruments), wine cups, bowls,
kettles, toiletry containers, hairpins and pendant trinkets. However, owning
jade objects was largely limited to a small group of the privileged class such
as the royal family and aristocrats because of the rarity of the raw material
and the difficulty of carving it.
Since ancient times, Korean people have liked to carry jade objects with them to
appreciate the medically beneficial effects as well as the serene beauty of the subdued yet
mysteriously beautiful colors that appear cold but actually are warm and soft to the touch. As modern living began to
demand diversity even in the art of jade carving that had lasted for several thousand years on the peninsula, the tradition
is now expected to continue to evolve from producing items for daily use to creating genuine works of art.
Jang Ju-won, Master Craftsman of Jade Carving, is a leading Korean jade carver who actively takes up the new
challenges of our time.
View the master's works