A7: The One Word for All Chinese Arts

Many years ago I was shown two jade dragons. They looked exactly the same and were sold at high prices in an international auction. I was asked which was the original and which was the imitation. They both looked very, very beautiful and shining. I did not know the answer. Then the man asked me which one had better energy flow or connection. I still had no idea. Then he gave me a hint, “which has more wholeness in design?” Then I was able to figure out.

In appreciating “all” Chinese arts, the first criterion will be the energy flow, or Chi (Qi  ), or life force, or connection of wholeness. If the stalk of a plant is drawn with many strokes and each stroke is amended several times, the plant will look like being torn apart and then glued back. But if the stalk is drawn with appropriate number of strokes or just one metaphysical stroke, the plant will look vivid or transcendental.

In judging Chinese arts, we look for the energy flow since the intrinsic beauty can only be found within the art that embodies a high energy and awareness level from the artists. This principle can be applied to all Chinese arts. Unlike oil painting, most Chinese arts emphasize and value the skills without amendments. One may add more strokes over an unsatisfied area in oil painting, but Chinese arts focus on capturing the mindset at that very moment when an artist is creating the work – without any makeup. Unlike other visual arts, all strokes in Chinese calligraphy are permanent and incorrigible. It’s because this “finality” that makes Chinese calligraphy extremely difficult to master. Chinese calligraphy, painting, and seal making thus deserve more merits than many forms of arts in the mind of most Chinese people.


Jade Belt Buckle with Wild Goose Design
Yuan to Ming Dynasty (1271-1368)
      11.2 x 6.2 cm

This ovoid belt buckle is carved in translucent white nephrite with a waxy luster. The obverse depicts in layered openwork a wild goose scurrying through the reeds of a lotus pond. The reverse is fitted with a rectangular jade frame of a scepter cloud design in low relief with two inlaid copper clasps for fastening to a belt.

This jade adornment retains the oval shape and style of its predecessors in the Yuan Dynasty. The gradations are complex but not erratic, and lines are rounded and fluid. The inside is as delicate as the outside. If the artist did not have enough physical energy and mental focus, he had no way to carve inside the jade without disrupting the “wholeness” – the “oneness” of that unique piece of art.


Dragon-shaped pendant (Pair)

Warring States Period (403 –221 BC)        20.5 x 7.8 x 0.75 cm

This pair of pendants is carved from light yellowish-green nephrite (jade) speckled with gray and black. These pendants are covered with a thin layer of ashen spots and carved into the impressive semblance of large coiling dragons. The designs on the obverse and reverse are identical, with the curled snouts and manes extending to the front and back respectively. The chins are arced and a gap separates the upper and lower jaws, while the cheeks are adorned with an oblique and checkered shield design. The serpentine bodies are embellished with spiraled hooks and carved with rows of “Gu    ” (grain) patterns. Many of the hooks are carved with hair-tuft patterns, typical of the Warring States style.

We may have noticed that the torsos of the dragons resemble the stokes of Zuan Style calligraphy. The spacing, structure, and energy flow are quite in correspondence with Zuan Style. (Please refer to the illustrations in A9: How to Self Criticize.)


Today me may see a beautiful jade dragon with long twisted torso. Even though we have better technology today, we can never see the depth of the spiritual beauty and delicacy of a dragon in a machine processed jade as in an ancient jade. Because most of the ancient artists had a higher level of physical endurance and mind focus, their energy flow and life force were shown in their works and revealed to us more intrinsic beauty of the art and artist. Jade were almost certainly used by the highest nobility as emblems of status in ancient China.

Chinese believe that jade has a special kind of energy to bring luckiness and avoid or circumvent disasters. They say that if a group of people walking across the street are hit by a vehicle, the one wearing a jade would least likely to get injured. Thus, the Chinese saying “The man survived with a broken jade.”

More links about Chinese jade:




Articles Menu                      Home