Jade and Immortality

What could you promise an emperor of China that he doesn’t already have? From the Han Tomb Treasures exhibit at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, we learned the answer — immortality.

From the Asian Art Museum,

The Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) achieved great prosperity and cultural richness. Ruled by 29 emperors for over 400 years, the dynasty represents the first “golden era” of development in Chinese history, a time when its diverse ethnic groups experienced relative stability, social development and harmony.

Objects in Tomb Treasures were excavated from royal tombs in China’s Jiangsu province, mostly from the mausoleum of Liu Fei, which has generated significant buzz in recent years. In early 2009, the deaths of four tomb robbers brought the attention of the local government to a rural site: a stone quarry on Dayun Mountain. Over the next two years, archaeologists excavated three large tombs, 13 attendant tombs, two weaponry pits and two chariot pits containing more than 10,000 artifacts. These fascinating objects share stories of the economic and social development of the Han dynasty and provide insight into the quest of the Han elite for glory even after death.

The Chinese associate jade with the emperor. The museum plays and cites a Smithsonian video that illustrates the relationship of the king and jade using the Chinese characters. From the video, the Chinese character for jade adds a stroke to the character for king (emperor).

From wikipedia, “By the Han dynasty, the royal family and prominent lords were buried entirely ensheathed in jade burial suits sewn in gold thread, on the idea that it would preserve the body and the souls attached to it.” The jade burial suit from the 2nd century BCE brings immortality.

To prepare for this afterlife, Chinese emperors had extensive tombs like Egyptian pharaohs. Describing the complex for Liu Fei, “Measuring over 1,600 feet on each side, the royal mausoleum’s total area amounts to almost 2.7 million square feet, about the size of 35 soccer fields.”

jade dragon pendant, 2C BCE
jade dragon pendant, 2C BCE


Chinese use jade for ornaments like this dragon pendant.





This pair of brass tiger mat weights is from the 2nd century BCE.

brass tiger mat weights, 2C BCE
brass tiger mat weights, 2C BCE

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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

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