Jades from China and India – a most curious exchange
This is our annual Woolf Jade Lecture, kindly sponsored by Jonathan Woolf and the Woolf Charitable Trust.
China made artefacts out of a semi-precious stone called “jade”, and so did India. Chinese archaeologists have unearthed jade slit rings which they date to the 8th millennium BC. The history of the production of jade artefacts in India is not fully known, but surviving inscribed pieces point to the 17th century as the period when many magnificent jade items were made.
In the 18th century these two jade-using cultures had a brief encounter. Hundreds of Mughal jade objects entered the Qing court and won the praise of Emperor Qianlong. A hundred or so years later India stopped making jade artefacts, and Indian dignitaries acquired Chinese products on the open market. Britain had a presence in both India and China, and became an unintentional witness to the encounter.
Image: Jade circular box and cover, Mughal or Chinese, “Jiaqing yuwan” inscribed on base, Cope bequest, 712-1903. Copyright V&A
- Ming Wilson
Ming Wilson was formerly Senior Curator and then Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the Asian Department, Victoria and Albert Museum. She has organised exhibitions and written books on a wide range of topics in Chinese art, including export paintings (2003), jades (2004), books (2006), and imperial robes (2010). Recently she has been conducting in-depth research on Sino-British relations. In 2017 she published two articles about diplomatic gifts exchanged between these two nations, namely 1) Gifts from Emperor Qianlong to King George III, and 2) Gifts presented to the Chinese emperor by Lord George Macartney.