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How a style of jade jewellery provides a window into the cultures and traditions of Ming dynasty

It would be hard to think of a mineral more intertwined with Chinese jewellery as jade.

The earliest history of the iconic green-tinted gemstone dates back 12,000 years, and it has been an essential part of society almost from day one, decorating the bodies and homes of emperors and commoners alike.

During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), a special type of jade jewellery called “group jade pendants” became a symbol of power, elegance and, eventually, represented an economic transformation of the empire.

Typically hung from cloth waistbands, these pieces of jewellery featured a series of jade carvings held together by metal chains, often made of gold or silver.

According to new research published in Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research, a peer-reviewed journal, the structures of the pendants typically included four distinct “sections”.

The top section featured a large engraved jade pendant, followed by three smaller stones. Then, the chain connected to the largest piece of jade and the piece ended with four small stones surrounding another medium-sized piece of jade.

“For those of higher status, the pendant was much more elaborate; but for those of lower status, the pendant was relatively simple and short,” wrote author Luo Yuran from the Wuhan University of Technology in Hubei province in central China.

Interestingly, the designs evolved according to Ming dynasty history. For example, there was a noticeable increase in how elaborate the designs became as the Ming dynasty became more powerful.

However, much of the Ming dynasty’s transformation came under the Yongle Emperor (r. 1402 -1424), who was infamously brutal. Luo wrote: “the political atmosphere was very heavy, and the people did not dare to overstep the limits of their behaviour, and it was difficult to innovate in the arts.”


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