A set of jade pendants

Period: the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)

Length: 59 centimeters

According to “Shuowen Jiezi” (“An Analytical Dictionary of Chinese Characters”) from the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220), jade symbolizes modesty, justice, wisdom, courage and compassion.

From the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC), a set of jade pendants composed of jade huang (arc-shaped pendant), pipes and beads were an important part of culture.

Aristocrats wore the sets as chest- length or even knee-length necklaces. The longer the jade ornament was, the higher social status the owner had.

The set of jade pendants was later fastened as a pair on the owner’s belt.

Apart from adornments, they were also used to regulate women’s manners. Women had to walk slowly and with grace while wearing the jade pendants, which made a pleasant sound as they swung against each other.

One of the best-known sets is held by the Hubei Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology. At 59 centimeters long, the set comprises 49 pieces including 32 jade leaves representing a person of noble birth, four jade peaches symbolizing longevity and wellness, four jade melons for success and two jade fish for wealth. There is another jade piece named heng, a stick-shaped pendant, separating the whole set into two parts.

The set also features four pomegranates signifying fertility and happiness and two mandarin ducks representing harmony — all made of agate. A yellow silk thread connects all the pieces.

The pendants were excavated from the joint tomb of Zhu Zhanji — Prince Liangzhuang — and his wife, surnamed Wei, in Hubei Province in 2001.

He was the ninth son of Zhu Gaochi, who was the fourth emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

The couple’s tomb is located in a small village where there is a dragon-like hill range. Facing south, the tomb was carefully built at the dragon’s head. According to fengshui, this is a treasured land.

Apart from underground palace, there were also once above-ground structures, but only a few broken bricks and tiles now remain.

The locals had always known there was a tomb of a Ming prince in the area.

But it wasn’t until the 1950s that it was found by archeologists. In 1961, it was designated as a protected municipal-level historical and cultural site.

By law, the tombs of princes or those with higher ranks cannot be excavated.

But on February 2, 2000, the third day of the first lunar month, a group of grave robbers tried to blast open the tomb under the cover of the sound of fireworks as the village celebrated.

But after several attempts they failed. They returned a few days later to try again. And they failed again. But their furtive attempts were noticed by an elderly woman, who reported them to a local official, and they were arrested by police.

But their bungled attempts had seriously damaged the structural integrity of the tomb.

With official approval, a number of archeologists began to excavate the tomb in April 2000. With six layers of brick, the wall of the tomb was very thick. Despite their attempts, the would-be robbers had only broken through three layers.

A total of 5,300 artifacts were found in the tomb, including 3,400 pieces of gold, jade and jewelry. Ranging from drinkware such as gold pots and cups, dinnerware such as gold chopsticks and spoons, to jewelry like earrings, hairpins, pendants and bracelets, the pieces are truly exceptional.

Normally, the special sets of jade pendants could only be worn by royalty. As his concubine, Wei was not entitled to such a treasure.

But their love touched Emperor Xuande (1398-1435), who granted them the jade pieces on their wedding day in 1433.

Actually, Wei was not the prince’s first wife, who had died early. He didn’t remarry until he met Wei, a beautiful, intelligent and considerate woman. Instead of being highborn, Wei was born into a normal family. Despite the disparity of their backgrounds, the couple fell deeply in love.

Unfortunately, after being together with his love for eight years, Prince Liangzhuang died in 1441 when he was only 30.

Wei was heartbroken and considered suicide. But with two young daughters, she gave up the idea and brought them up alone.

Ten years later, Wei died of sickness. Before dying, she asked to be buried with Prince Liangzhuang.

The tomb of the couple became the only one in China transformed from a single tomb to a joint tomb.