A little jade snake

My artifact is a jade snake.  I did not get this snake from this trip to China, however — it was brought from China as a gift to me from a dear former Chinese student.

A gift from one of my former Chinese students - an old gift with a new meaning

A gift from one of my former Chinese students – an old gift with a new meaning; Photo Leslie Bohon

There are indirect and direct connections of our course to this little jade snake.

Direct connection: Insight into the Chinese culture. Any cultural tidbit such as what is precious to a people is insight into their culture. One understanding that I took from our trip was that the Chinese attach meaning to everything, it seemed (I wondered WHO was attaching the meaning…government?); nevertheless, there is meaning attached to many things. Meaning and symbolism infiltrates much of Chinese society (for example, at the universities, we saw statues of Mao and banners telling the students to study hard; moral teachings on public signs, symbols in the architecture).

Jade is also symbolic. Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC) said there are 11 De (virtues) in jade.

Jade = virtue

Brilliancy = purity

Hardness = sureness of intelligence

Angles = justice

Sound = music

Color = loyalty

Interior flaws = sincerity

Brightness = heaven

Substance born of mountain and water = earth

Used alone = chastity

Price = truth

The Chinese say, “Gold has a value; jade is invaluable” (Jade Culture, 2012).

Indirect connection: insight into my past experiences with my students.  This jade snake is not something that I brought back to the U.S. from this trip.  Instead, it is a redefinition of episodes in my past.  I have had many Chinese and Taiwanese students in my classes over the last 15 years.  At the time that my student brought me this snake, it was a nice gift from a nice student, but I did not understand the cultural significance.

Now, this is a different story.  Now, I can surmise what this must have meant to this student – both as an icon of her culture and as a gift to me.  As an icon of her culture, jade has many meanings, as listed above.  The Chinese wear jade for protection.  To give jade as a gift means Jade is a protective stone, a stone of abundance and money so that you never go without.  It is also a stone for healing your heart and a stone of unconditional love.

I am able to look back to those experiences as a teacher of Chinese students and begin to fill in the gaps of my understanding.  I know more about the culture, classrooms, family life, and society of those students.

For me, these old gifts have new meaning.  It’s as if the meat is filling out the skeleton or a fuzzy picture is coming into focus.  I am able to make new meaning out of past experiences.

A Gift with New Meaning – powerpoint presentation about my little jade snake and its new meaning

Shan, J. (2013). Jade Culture. Retrieved from http://chineseculture.about.com/cs/history/a/JadeCulture.htm