The word "jade" communicates a sense of mystery. In Chinese, "jade" (yu) refers to a fine, beautiful stone with a warm color and rich luster, that is skillfully and delicately carved. In Chinese culture, jade symbolizes nobility, perfection, constancy, and immortality. They believed that one of their eight immortals, Ho Hsien-Ku, gained eternal life by taking a powder of pulverized jade and mother-of-pearl. For millennia, jade has been an intimate part of the lives of Chinese of all ranks and classes. It is viewed as the most valuable of all precious stones.
Jade is found in mountains and riverbeds, and Chinese consider jade to be "the essence of heaven and earth." When polished and carved into various articies, jade is attributed with certain cultural characteristics. In ancient Chinese cosmology, the firmament was considered to be round, and the earth square. Thus a round jade ceremonial ornament with a hole in the center, called a bi, was carved to honor the gods of heaven, and a long hollow jade ornament with rectangular sides, called a cong, was made to honor the spirits of earth. According to ancient Chinese legend, the phoenix and the dragon are animal deities that were the life-source of family clans. For this reason, jade was often used as a material for carving phoenixes and dragons worn as ornaments. These ornaments symbolized the noble bearing of a gentleman, and are the origin of the Chinese saying: "The gentleman's morals are like jade."
Jade refers to two minerals, nephrite and jadeite, which vary in chemical composition but are not obviously different in appearance. Both minerals may vary in color from a translucent grayish-white to yellowish hues, into the rarer brown and violet. The popular bright green jade of which beads, jewelry and larger objects are usually made is jadeite.
Jade ornaments have remained popular up until the present day. Today in the Republic of China, the purchase, wearing, and giving of jade items as gifts is still very common. Jade is viewed as an ideal gift for couples making a mutual commitment, and for one's children when they get married. Even now, the Chinese retain the idea that in addition to being beautiful, jade can protect from misfortune and bring good luck.