Material is Key to Collecting Chinese Jade – Part 1


If the same title was posted onto Asian Art Forum, I will be bombarded like there’s no tomorrow. The usual response would be “…different materials from different mines were exploited at different intervals of Chinese history, hence it cannot be trusted…” – I beg to differ strongly. Those willing to do a bit more homework will find this approach very useful as one of the key appraisal methods to build an impressive archaic, archaistic and modern jade collection.

I am certainly not bragging that I, or anyone for that matter, can be so precise in justifying that a particular piece was made with a particular material mined at a particular area from a particular mountain. What I am advocating lies with the concept of focusing on the (1) correct and (2) better quality material (such as Hetian nephrite) as much as possible.

As an example, I will be using the controversial topic of collecting Hongshan Culture Coiled Pig Dragons 猪龍:

The photo right above compares the underlying jade material and surface alteration of a genuine Hongshan jade piece on the left to the questionable piece on the right. Pay close attention to the kind of green material for both. I admit that lighting could have affected the above images, hence, in reality, do comparisons under the same lighting condition. Chances are the overall surface of the piece on the right will be fairly smoothly and you can barely feel the surface alteration. Besides severely corroded surfaces, collectors have to be wary of too-smooth-to-be-true surfaces as well.

Now this one can be tricky. Given this jade material has not been entirely corroded (like most cheap fakes), I would probably give it a high chance of being genuine if not for my father’s eagle eyes on the overall carving style. =)

Bear the above in mind, and now feast your eyes on the following excavated piece from Nasitai site, Balinyouqi, Inner Mongolia now located in the Balinyouqi Museum.

THE Hongshan Culture Coiled Pig Dragon 猪龍

Allow me to state that this Balinyouqi piece solely cannot represent the variations of excavated Hongshan Coiled Pig Dragon. However, it is more advantageous for an Archaic Jade Collector to focus on such quality pieces and avoid paying too much for exaggerated surface alteration and (eventually) highly controversial, most likely modern, counterparts. Even if you were mistaken on the stylistic carvings, at least the material feels good and may command some value. In fact, this works better in a collector’s favour in the later dynasties with the discovery of Hetian nephrite in Xinjiang.

As for (2) better quality material like Hetian, to be in line with China’s Jade History, I will be using examples referenced to later dynasties. Be very careful when someone tries to sell you genuine Hetian material jade pieces dated to earlier than Shang dynasty – it is extremely rare. The only positive part would be the Hetian material if genuine, and that area is worthy of a future write-up.

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