Chinese civilization is perhaps one of the oldest in the world, as they began making jewelry 5,000 years ago with the emerging Yang-Shao and Lungshanoid cultures in the Yangtze river delta.
Since its beginnings, chinese jewelry had a great peculiarity: the dragons and the phoenix. And not only in jewelry, but also in architecture, especially dragons are very present. All this due to a legend, which relates that in a very old time in China, when only the eastern sea existed, there were no lakes or rivers on earth, lived four dragons: Yellow Dragon, Black Dragon, Pearl Dragon and the Great Dragon.
Between their adventures, they decided to fly towards the clouds, where they saw from a distance a large number of people who lived of their agricultural crops, but these people were suffering, because it had not rained in a long time and the crops did not prosper. They prayed to the God of Heaven to send a little rain, but it seemed this God didn’t listen.
The dragons were overwhelmed with such thing, and they flew quickly to the Palace of the Sky, where the Jade Emperor lived, who was very powerful and was in charge of the affairs of the sky and the earth, to ask him to send rain to the Earth. Between negotiations, the Jade Emperor reluctantly agreed on the condition that the four dragons return to the sea.
The days passed and not a single drop of water fell on the earth to help the people who were hungry. Then the Great Dragon looked at the sea by which he flew every day, and thought to take the water and then throw it into the sky so that it fell like rain to save the people and their crops since the Jade Emperor only worried about for his affairs.
The other dragons agreed, knowing the possible consequences it would bring in disobeying the Emperor, and they did so. The four dragons filled their mouths with seawater and sprayed the clouds in such a way that in minutes began to fall like rain.
The population began to jump of joy and immediately the ears of wheat began to straighten up, but the Jade Emperor was furious about what happened and arrested the dragons in the Palace of Heaven. Then he ordered the God of the Mountains to put a mountain on top of each dragon so that they could not move anymore.
But without a shred of repentance, the dragons opened paths between them to help people for the rest of eternity and formed rivers that crossed the mountains and valleys from west to east to empty into their old home: the sea.
And so it is said that four rivers were formed in China: the Heilongjiang (Black Dragon) in the north, the Huang He (Yellow Dragon) in the center, the Chang Jiang (Yangtze or Great Dragon) in the south and the Zhujiang (Dragon Pearl) much further south.
This beautiful story shows why dragons are so revered in Chinese culture, being symbols of Chinese emperors. While the rest of the world fears these mythological creatures, in China they represent the primary forces of nature and the universe, and are associated with wisdom and longevity.
Dragon made of jade stone
And the Phoenix Bird, in Chinese mythology, means the balance between opposing forces (the Ying and Yang) and is said to be the dominator of the South. Also his figure resembles him with the Sun and is titled the Emperor of the Birds, as well as being incapable of hurting any living being. It was a symbol for the Chinese empress.
Wood carved amulet
Now, as you know now why the worship of these two mythological symbols in Chinese culture, it’s time to know their ancient jewelry.
Silver predominated on most occasions as precious metal, being supplemented with gold and bronze. Red corals and ivory were used in jewelry.
But Jade was the preferred stone before any other precious stone, being considered as a symbol of luck, grace, dignity, high morality and a talisman.
It is valued for its hardness, strength and beauty. Particularly, its delicate features and translucent colors made chinese philosophy use jade as a metaphor to refer to the soul, immortality and harmony.
Nephrite jade, less expensive than jadeite, began to be used in the seventeenth century, but the emperors were buried with jewels, amulets and pieces of jadeite to protect them on their journey to the afterlife. In fact, some were buried in crypt species made entirely of jadeite.
Nephrite jade bracelet
Currently, researches has been done that has revealed that jade, from the point of view of health, favors the well-being of people to a certain point, since its chemical components tone the human body, strengthen the immune system, improve the metabolism in the body and harmonize the physical and spiritual state.
As in any other civilization, the jewels were also used to show wealth and nobility, and large complex earrings predominated.
In addition to dragons and the phoenix, chinese jewelry had natural motifs such as palm and lotus. They were mostly reflected in seal rings and bracelets. Also the religious motifs and Buddhist symbols were part of this incredible jewelry.
Ancient red lacquer bracelet
The jewelry of ancient China was made to create harmony and tranquility in the wearer, and seek balance between nature and humanity. It is impressive how chinese civilization sought spiritual welfare over aesthetic pleasure itself. Chinese mythology will always be one of the most interesting in the world.