why do chinese like jade

chinese jadejade buddha

Gold has a price, while jade is priceless

As a Chinese saying suggests, “Gold has a price, while jade is priceless.” This is literally true today. Unlike diamonds or gold, no international pricing index exists for jade. Instead, the price of each piece is set between the seller and the buyer in private transactions or public auctions based on the rock’s size, shape, transparency, texture, place of origin, craftsmanship, and even ownership history.

Jade is jadeite

More confusingly, jade (玉) is a generic title for two chemically different substances which are physically similar. One, jadeite, known as “hard jade” (硬玉) or feicui (翡翠) in Chinese. It comes exclusively from Myanmar, and appears in many colors—including blue, brown, red, black, dark green, lavender, and white.

Jade is nephrite

The other is nephrite, or “soft jade” (软玉), which traditionally comes from western China and was in vogue long before jadeite. Usually found in creamy white or a variety of light green hues, it’s also referred to as “Hetian Jade,” after the region in Xinjiang that historically produced it. It’s this lustrous type of jade that has been frequently extolled in traditional Chinese literature—compared to the complexion of beautiful women, invoked to symbolize moral purity, and linked to mythical figures like the Jade Emperor, the ruler of heaven.

Chinese Jade

Jade has never been just a gemstone in China. Archeological findings suggest that during the Neolithic Age, jade had already been used in China to offer as sacrifices to gods or drive away evil spirits. In the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods (770 – 221 BCE), aristocrats began to wear jade accessories, with different items and colors denoting different social ranks.

The characteristics of the precious jade stone also became associated with Confucian gentlemen, or junzi (君子), who habitually wore a jade girdle to demonstrate their virtue. Second-century scholar Xu Shen concluded, based on Confucius teachings, that jade “embodies the five virtues”: kindness (symbolized by its gentle luster); righteousness (its transparency); wisdom (it can be made into musical instruments); bravery (it can be crushed, but never bends); and incorruptibility (it is sharp, but is never used to commit violence). These traits coalesced in the saying, “A gentleman does not remove jade from himself without reason (君子无故,玉不去身).”

All of this has led to China’s jade investment sector booming faster than regulations can keep up with, buoyed by rising domestic consumption and several millennia of cultural feeling.

Though China does not publish the amount of jade it imports from Myanmar—much of which is mined in the conflict-ridden Kachin State—the Harvard Ash Center estimated as of 2011 that the global jadeite trade was worth 8 billion USD, with demand almost entirely driven by the Chinese market. According to news website Vision Times, in 2016, the nephrite jade market was estimated to be worth 30 billion USD.

Today, though, jade’s main consumers are “middle-aged women,” according to Fan Jing, a gemologist working for Guangdong Gem and Jade Exchange Center, a jade dealing organization. “Influenced by traditional culture, Chinese women have a special feeling for jade, and usually only those with certain economic status can afford jade of relatively good quality,” she explains.

According to Fan, consumers often pay attention to a jade item’s appearance first, and then look at its investment value. “Jade is only expensive when the material is of good quality, and made into relatively large objects, like bracelets or ornaments. Its value first depends on the material, then on the workmanship.” High-quality jade is often carved into large ornaments.