Date:

The Immortal Armour of China’s Jade Burial Suits

The Jade burial suits are hand-crafted jade suits from the Han Dynasty of China, used for the ceremonial burials of China’s elite and members of the ruling class.

The Chinese developed a fascination with Jade as early as 6000 BC during the Neolithic period, producing ritual and ornamental tools or weapons as symbols of political power and religious authority.

- Advertisement -

One of the first known centres of Jade manufacturing occurred in the Yangtze River Delta of China by the Liangzhu culture (3300–2300 BC), sourcing nephrite jade for utilitarian and ceremonial jade items from the now depleted deposits in the Ningshao area.

Jade was also heavily sourced in an area of the Liaoning province in Inner Mongolia by the Hongshan culture (4700–2200 BC), producing jade objects in the shapes of pig dragons or zhūlóng and embryo dragons.

shutterstock 1468343771
Image Credit : Shutterstock

With the emergence of the Han Dynasty (the second imperial dynasty of China) from 202 BC, jade objects were increasingly embellished with animal and other decorative motifs, whilst low relief work in objects such as the belt-hooks became part of elite costume.

Because of its hardness, durability, and subtle translucent colours, jade became associated with Chinese conceptions of the soul, protective qualities, and immortality in the ‘essence’ of stone (yu zhi, shi zhi jing ye).

- Advertisement -

The association with jade’s longevity is apparent from text by the Chinese historian Sima Qian (145 – 86 BC) about Emperor Wu of Han (157 BC –87 BC), who was described as having a jade cup inscribed with the words “Long Life to the Lord of Men”, and indulged himself with an elixir of jade powder mixed with sweet dew.

shutterstock 608432234
Image Credit : Shutterstock

The Han thought that each person had a two-part soul: the spirit-soul (hun 魂) which journeyed to the afterlife paradise of immortals (xian), and the body-soul (po 魄) which remained in its grave or tomb on earth and was only reunited with the spirit-soul through a ritual ceremony. The early Han rulers came to believe that jade would preserve the physical body and the souls attached to it in death, with various burials being found with large and small jade bi discs placed around the deceased.

This developed into the practice of being buried in ornate jade burial suits, completely encasing the deceased in thousands of pieces of cut and polished jade sewn together with thread, believing that the suit ensured the body would remain immortal. It is estimated that it would require hundreds of craftsmen more than 10 years to polish the jade plates required for a single suit, emphasising the power and wealth of the deceased.

jade3
Image Credit : Shutterstock

According to the Hòu Hànshū (Book of the Later Han), the type of thread used was dependent on status. An emperor’s jade suit was threaded with gold, whilst lessor royals and high-ranked nobility with silver, sons and daughters of the lessor with copper, and lowly ranked aristocrats with silk.

It is believed that the practice ceased during the reign of the first emperor of the state of Wei in the Three Kingdoms period (AD 220-280), in fear of tomb robbers who would burn the suits in order to retrieve the gold or silver thread.

The mention of jade suit burials in historical text was long suspected as merely legend, until the discovery of two complete jade suits in the tombs of Prince Liu Sheng and his wife Princess Dou Wan in Mancheng, Hebei in 1968, with a total of 20 known jade burial suits being discovered in China to date.

Header Image Credit : Maksim Gulyachik

- Advertisement -
spot_img
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
spot_img

Mobile Application

spot_img

Related Articles

Archaeologists search for home of infamous Tower of London prisoner

A team of archaeologists are searching for the home of Sir Arthur Haselrig, a leader of the Parliamentary opposition to Charles I, and whose attempted arrest sparked the English Civil War.

Tartessian plaque depicting warrior scenes found near Guareña

Archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology of Mérida (IAM) and the CSIC have uncovered a slate plaque depicting warrior scenes at the Casas del Turuñuelo archaeological site.

Archaeologists find a necropolis of stillborn babies

Excavations by the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) have unearthed a necropolis for stillborn and young children in the historic centre of Auxerre, France.

Researchers find historic wreck of the USS “Hit ‘em HARDER”

The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) has confirmed the discovery of the USS Harder (SS 257), an historic US submarine from WWII.

Archaeologists uncover Roman traces of Vibo Valentia

Archaeologists from the Superintendent of Archaeology Fine Arts and Landscape have made several major discoveries during excavations of Roman Vibo Valentia at the Urban Archaeological Park.

Archaeologists uncover crypts of the Primates of Poland

Archaeologists have uncovered two crypts in the collegiate church in Łowicz containing the Primates of Poland.

Giant prehistoric rock engravings could be territorial markers

Giant rock engravings along the Upper and Middle Orinoco River in South America could be territorial markers according to a new study.

Infant burials found under prehistoric “dragon stone”

A study, published in the journal Science Direct, has revealed the discovery of two infant burials beneath a prehistoric “dragon stone” in Armenia.