By Ron Dupuis
‘Icy,’ ‘mottled,’ ‘mutton-fat,’ ‘greasy.’ No, your freezer doesn’t need defrosting, there’s been no kitchen disaster, and this is not about the newest trend in restaurant menus or avant-garde ice cream concoctions. These are some of the myriad terms describing a mineral venerated in Chinese culture. Chunks of this silicate rock have been used for thousands of years for ornamental and household purposes. The finest qualities of this ‘Stone of Heaven’ have long been synonymous with the very word for jewel.
Beloved of emperors and courtesans alike, jade was reserved only for the wealthiest individuals at court at one time. Artisans carved specific motifs into the stone representing longevity, wealth, health, and wisdom. Typical examples include the bat, a symbol of happiness and longevity, and a species of mushroom, the lingzhi fungus, representing immortality. Beautiful, inspirational forms include: lotus blossoms, lily pad leaves, bamboo, chrysanthemum blossoms, melons, peaches, cranes, fish, and the famed Foo Dog, a cross between a dog and a lion. Mythological dragons and the phoenix are also popular depictions.