The earth’s crust contains over 1,000 kinds of stones, but only about a dozen belong to the jade family. Limited by undeveloped quarrying skills, ancient jade output was very small; therefore, the price of jade was high. Some believe the most valuable piece of ancient jade ware is a flat, round jade ornament named “heshi bi” from the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). The ornament is admired not only for its high quality jade, but also for the story behind it. Legend has it that a man named He from the State of Chu had obtained a piece of jade at Mount Jing in present-day Hubei Province and presented it to King Li. The King was insulted and had the man’s left foot amputated. When King Wu succeeded the throne, the man presented the jade to the throne again. The same thing happened, and this time he lost his right foot. When King Wen was enthroned, the man went back to Mount Jing with the jade, full of sorrow. King Wen sent someone to tell him that his jade was precious and was named Heshi Bi — He Family’s Jade. Han Dynasty historian Sima Qi wrote in his book, The Records of a Historian, that the jade was later obtained by the ruler of the State of Zhao. When the ruler of Qin heard about it, he offered to trade 15 of his walled towns for the jade. The ruler of Zhao then sent a minister to take the jade over to Qin, which was stronger than the State of Zhao. When the minister found that the ruler of Qin was not really serious about the trade, the minister managed to bring the jade back to Zhao, relying on his resourcefulness and bravery. The idea that someone may have been willing to give away 15 towns in exchange for a piece of jade reflects the great value the Chinese place on jade.
An old Chinese saying, “Gold has a price, but jade does not,” so in traditional Chinese literature, gold and jade are often mentioned together and are seen as symbols of wealth. Even today the price of high quality jade is no less than a piece of gold of the same weight, and it has stepped down from its ancient sacred altar and has come into the lives of ordinary people.