Saturday, August 21, 2010

Jade Burial Suit

     A Jade burial suit is a ceremonial suit made of pieces of jade in which royal members in Han Dynasty China were buried, as the Chinese believed that jade had magical properties and would prevent the decay of the body.

The greatest expressions of the quest for immortality were the jade suits that appeared around the 2nd century B.C. Jade suits were believed to slow decomposition and effectively preserve the body after death. The jade burial suit gradually disappeared when it was forbidden in 222 AD by Emperor Wen of Wei.

Confirming ancient records about Han royalty and nobility buried in jade burial suits, archaeologists discovered in June 1968 the tombs and jade burial suits of Prince Liu Sheng) and his wife Dou Wan in Hebei province. The jade suits of Liu Sheng and Dou Wan consisted of 2,498 plates of solid jade connected with two and a half pounds of gold wires The known well-preserved person in Han dynasty was Xinzhui of Mawangdui, the wife of an official. The emperor and empress bodies did not decay when Chimei rebels dig them up. 
For many years, many archaeologists believed that jade burial suits did not really exist and were only myths or legends. The discovery in 1968 of two complete jade suits in the tombs of Liu Sheng and Dou Wan in Mancheng, Hebei, finally proved their existence. 
Of the jade suits that have been found, the pieces of jade are mostly square or rectangular in shape, though triangular, trapezoid and rhomboid plaques have also been found. Plaques are often joined by means of wire, threaded through small holes drilled near the corners of each piece. The composition of the wire varies, and several suits have been found joined with gold, silver, copper or even silk thread. The type of wire used was dependent on the rank of the person buried.

Gold thread are used for the jade suit of emperors; silver thread are used for princes, princesses, dukes, and marquises, sons or daughters of those given silver thread, copper thread; and for lesser aristocrats, silk thread . Jade burial suits were forbidden for general people.

A jade burial suit was extremely expensive to create, and only wealthy nobles could afford to be buried in them. Additionally, the process of manufacturing a suit was labour intensive and is estimated to have required several years to complete a single suit.  

Burial Suit not a bad idea.....but why jade burial suit ? According to Chinese creation myth; after man was created he wandered the earth, helpless and vulnerable to attacks from wild beasts. The storm god took pity on him and forged a rainbow into jade axes and tossed them to the earth for man to discover and protect himself with.

Some scholars have also suggested that Chinese civilization was built around jade. Known as the "Stone of Heaven," it was more valuable than gold or gems in imperial China and was considered a bridge between heaven and earth. Prized for both its beauty and symbolic value, jade has traditionally been worn as talisman by Chinese and shaped into a variety of objects. Jade was also prized by the Olmec and Mayan civilizations in America and by the Maori in New Zea land.  

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