Splendid Jewelry: Beads and Tubes in the Hunan Museum

Author: Yu Yanjiao
Monday, November 6, 2017


Beads and tubes are an important part of jewelry. Hunan Museum has collected a vast array of such pieces, most of which were unearthed from ancient tombs. They are made from various materials, including gold, silver, copper, pottery, ceramics, glass, jade, stone, emerald, agate, crystal, calaite, and amber. The craftsmanship varies according to the materials of the beads and tubes. Most of those pieces date back to the Shang Dynasty, Warring States period and Han Dynasty. Beads and tubes of the Shang Dynasty were mainly made from jade, most of which were decorated on bronzes or unearthed together with bronzes. It is presumed that they were sacrificial objects. The number of beads and tubes from the Warring States period took the largest percentage, which may be closely linked to the fact that wearing jade pendants was very popular at that time. They were made of different materials, glass, jade, crystal, calaite and so on. Glass beads and tubes with the design of eyes of dragonflies are the most common ones. But the shapes and designs are much diversified, with no identical patterns. According to the different shapes of the “eyes”, there are four types: “eyes” in the same level upon the round surface, “eyes” protruding out from the surface, dented “eyes” formed due to piled layers of dots, and imbedded “eyes” from glass dots with a different color. Few of them were made from imported soda-lime glass, while the majority were made from home-made lead barium glass. A large number of beads and tubes were produced in the Han Dynasty, with various materials, including jade, agate, crystal, amber, calaite, gold, ceramics, and glass. Some of them were components of the jade pendants while others were ornaments. The lesser numbered pieces could be threaded together as a bracelet, while the larger numbered pieces could be threaded together to form a necklace. Some beads and tubes made of gold, agate and crystal were imported from abroad, which shows the extensive exchange of cultures between China and other countries. Serving as important accessories, beads and tubes had been always favored by people from the ancient time. They played important roles in different historical periods. The following exquisite beads and tubes collected by the Hunan Museum are classified into three types: jade, glass, gold & silver. Their cultural connotations and artistic features are analyzed below.


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