Monday, March 14, 2011

Day 4 - This Tour Goes to ELEVEN! Part II - The Jade Factory

Part II - The Jade Factory

After our visit to the Ming Tombs, we gratefully ducked back inside our mini-van (mmmmm heating) and headed to the "Jade Factory."  This was our first adventure into the infamous "state run store" of the Communist sort.  In the New Chinese Economy, this was only 1/2 owned by the State now, but SO much like my memories of the Soviet ones I had seen in the '90's, I could see that "Social Realist" sculpture was not the only thing imported wholesale into China.  The fact that it was "only half owned by the state" was actually quite interesting.  Was the State admitting that maybe the government may not be the best at entrepreneurial  enterprises?  Clearly the State was still in charge of the decorating budget.  Hadn't even made it to Warehouse Chic.

Tavin standing in front of a replica of the "9 Dragon Wall" from the Forbidden City
Made up of thousands of little jade plaques.

We were treated to a rapid fire history of Jade in China, sources of jade, minerals in the jade family, difference between soft and hard jade, and how to tell jade-colored glass from jade at all.  I was able to ask a few questions, but there really wasn't much more information available from the tour people.  This spiel was usually given to a bus load full of people, not really interested in the chemical composition or geological story of jade, taking up valuable space in the hall - and they needed to be moved through to go buy things, and make space for the next bus load.  So the staff at the Jade factory seemed a bit at a loss for what to do with our tiny little group that was full of questions.  We had fun wandering around, looking at some of the HUGE stuff, and several examples of really beautiful carving.

The lucky bai tsai (this is a homophone for a phase of prosperity, so carvings of cabbage are often found in Chinese home.  Just be sure to point it the right way!)

They really wanted me to buy a jade bangle, but as they are more or less items of permanent wear, and I take off my watch just to type short letters, that wasn't going to happen.  I did have fun getting a jade (soft) rabbit to commemorate our visit being on the leading edge of the Year of the Rabbit, and FINALLY talked Alec into getting a Happiness Ball.  

These are fascinating things where a ball of Jade is carved into a series of nested hollow spheres that can be spun individually around each other.  The idea is the ball has symbols of happiness on it, and since the spheres are trapped inside, the happiness cannot escape. 

 The Imperial collections  contain a 7-layer ball.  And this of high quality hard jade.  The one Alec got as the ultimate fiddley toy is clearly a softer jade, and carved with a version of a dentist drill.  The Emperors was carved by human powered string spin drill that would basically sand the jade away.  It is almost excruciating to image the time and effort that would go into such an object.

It was fascinating to see the colors and grades of jade as we wondered about the store.  The eye-catching, flashy stuff piled in "pirate -treasure" fashion was clearly aimed at the tour-bus trade. 

  But along the walls in glass cases, wafer-thin slices, about the size of a domino tile, of a pure, bright, clear green, unmottled by any other shade lurked.  And the price of this single, polished, plain rectangle surpassed that of a lion,

 or dragon,

or shelf full of soft jade nick-nacks.  That stuff was for the connoisseurs.  I'm not one, and escaped with my bunny.

Here are a few of the giant things made out of jade and its related stones.  Please note the classy decor and flattering lighting of the state run store.

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