Tuesday, October 9, 2012

By the Twentieth Century, the Dragon Was in Hot Water

Even the most revered of sacred images can become the subject of satire, or simply a domestic decoration of sorts.  I am not sure exactly what statement this carved jade amulet from about 1900 in China was meant to pronounce.  It portrays the usual symmetrical dragons, one on each side not of a pearl or the phoenix bird, as was usually the case, but the two dragons are clinging on and sitting in what we call the hotpot, a vessel served to each table at a Mongolian barbecue.  The hotpot is full of near boiling water or oil or both and would make even a supernatural dragon quite uncomfortable, I should think.

Nevertheless, this is not an uncommon amulet to find in antique collections in China.  Here is the image I am discussing.

Old Hand Carved Kunlun Jade Pendant with Agate and Bronze Beads

This is a piece carved in the twentieth century in China. It was bought from Shanghai. This is the modern ironic temperament toward the sacred dragon symbol that had predominated in China for about five thousand years. In the early twentieth century, a pair of dragons are carved in the medieval style with elaborate coils and clear facial features and in the ancient iconic pose with faces turned back looking in opposite directions. The ironic or maybe satiric element in this carving is that the dragons are being boiled in a hot pot. 

Anyone who has been to a Mongolian barbecue grill knows that the hot pot is brought to the table with raw fresh meat or fish and skewers. The hot pot is steamy if not boiling hot and the diner skewers his/her meat or fish and dips it into the hot pot to cook to her/his satisfaction. Here the jade carver puts dragons, a symbol adopted by royal and noble families, into the hot pot to stew a bit. I will let the reader decide the meaning of this carving. 

The jade from which this satiric message is carved is Kunlun jade, a part of the imperial jade family, meaning that this jade, along with Hetian jade and Xiu jade, was highly valued by the royal dynasties of China. The Kunlun mountains, the source of the jade, divides the extreme Northwest desert part of China from the Tibetan plateau and Central China. 

As the descent is made by a traversable route, the traveler soon comes upon the source of one of the great long rivers of our planet; the Yellow River. The sites of some of our earliest human cultures have been discovered along this great river that stretches from Western China through Mongolia and empties into the Pacific, a length of 5,000 km -- about 3,000 miles.

Some of the world's most beautiful old agate beads are strung with the pendant. The ovoid beads on each side of the pendant are hand cut and hand drilled old dragon vein agates. The small round beads are also hand made beads. The smoky quartz and banded agate tubular beads are not old. The spacer beads are from Tibet and made of bronze finished metal with no lead or nickel content. The fastener and bail for the pendant are of the same material. 

Both sides of the pendant are shown in the photographs above. 

Measurements: 18.5 inches long
Pendant: 6.5 cm (2.5 in) x 6.5 cm (2.5 in)

For more information on this piece for sale, see CraftsofthePast.Artfire.com


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Nice, I like the blog so much! It was very informative, I am looking forward for your next posts. My vintage jewelry phoenix team likes your pictures as well.