comprising four rectangular white jade plaques of translucent pale celadon tone, the wood front cover with the sutra title Fo shuo xian zhe wu fu de jing ('Five Virtues of Righteous Men, Sutra Divulged by the Buddha') picked-out in gold, the jade plaques delicately and precisely incised and gilded with text in kaishu from the sutra, the first page incised with the title surrounded by the bajixiang ('Eight Buddhist Emblems'), and the last page with one hundred shou characters, all mounted in a bright yellow brocade frame, fitted in its original folding hard-board brocade box, and with a zitan box and cover inlaid in silver-wire with the sutra title within a key-fret border
Comte de Semallé Collection, France, late 19th century.
Maurice Paléologue, L'Art Chinois, Paris, 1887, p. 170.
'Deux livrets de jade de la collection du comte de Semallé,' Art Chinois, Bulletin de l'Association amicable franco-chinoise, vol. 3, no. 2, April 1911, p. 175-176.
The expertise of the craftsmen working during the Qianlong period is evident in this outstanding labour-intensive piece. With each plaque measuring only approximately 2mm thick, a masterful level of proficiency with the medium was required due to its extreme fragility. Craftsmen working on such books had to be extremely careful not to apply too much pressure to avoid breaking the precious material.
Despite the long history of jade books throughout Chinese history, only a small number have survived. During his reign the Qianlong emperor initiated a revival in jade book-making which also served the purpose of increasing the supply of raw material. Under his rule the number of jade books increased significantly, with the majority of books containing the emperor's poems and writings. Books containing Buddhist scriptures were also produced, such as the present piece, and often combined text with drawings.
With the pacification of the Hui people in Xinjiang during the Qianlong emperor's reign, jade workshops were able to secure good quality stone from Hetian and thereby satisfy his wish for jade artefacts. Jade books were made under imperial orders by artisans working in the Palace Workshop belonging to the Neiwufu, in the jade workshops of Suzhou, or in the jade workshops belonging to the Huai and Changlu Salt Administrations, as well as offered as tribute items to the emperor.
The Five Virtues of Buddhism, loving kindness and compassion, right means of livelihood, sensual restraint, right speech and mindfulness or self-control, are part of both lay Buddhist initiation and regular lay Buddhist devotional practices. In undertaking the five virtues, the Buddha taught that the follower gives freedom from danger, animosity, and oppression to a limitless number of beings, thus gaining a share in these areas of freedom themselves.
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