Dialogue Between the Perceived World and the Physical World

The previous two sections have allowed us to gain insight into the various workings of human vision, as well as an understanding that our perceived world is a three-dimensional world. As a result, when viewing jade artifacts with three-dimensional styles or two-dimensional silhouette designs, the brain perceives these designs to be natural and harmonious. However, jade beasts with distorted three-dimensional designs, or which have been projected as flattened units on a surface, are generally perceived by the brain after close inspection as being weird and unnatural, as such contorted creatures cannot exist in the real world.

Yet from another perspective, based on the general theory of relativity proposed by Albert Einstein and which was validated in 1919, the perceived world is really an illusory construct of the brain, while the actual physical world is a four-dimensional space, where the passage of time may quicken or slow, and space can be warped and distorted by physical forces. Therefore, the contorted and flattened jade beasts that seem so unnatural in our perception, may in fact be more accurate representations of objects in the real physical world.

To create their fantastical illusory effects, jade artifacts from the Warring States period to the Han Dynasty utilized many design techniques that challenge sensory perception; but when viewed in the context of their ultimate aesthetic goal of dynamic illusion, the rich imagination and creativity inherent in each work becomes clear. Moreover, a close inspection of the unnatural aspects of these jade designs can serve as a starting point for the exploration and comprehension of other scientific theories.

  • Jade Divine Beast
    Jade Divine Beast
    Late Western Han Dynasty to Eastern Han Dynasty
    1. W 4.4 cm, H 6.8 cm
  • Jade Rhyton with Dragon and Phoenix Pattern
    Jade Rhyton with Dragon and Phoenix Pattern
    Early to Middle Western Han Dynasty
    1. W 10.1 cm, H 18.3 cm
  • Jade Sword Pommel with Beast Pattern
    Jade Sword Pommel with Beast Pattern
    Early to Middle Western Han Dynasty
    1. Diameter 6.4 cm, H 3.8 cm
  • Jade Zhi Cup with Bird and Beast Pattern
    Jade Zhi Cup with Bird and Beast Pattern
    Early to Middle Western Han Dynasty
    1. Diameter 6.7 cm, H 7.8 cm
  • Jade She Thumb Ring-shaped Pendant with Dragon Pattern
    Jade She Thumb Ring-shaped Pendant with Dragon Pattern
    Middle to Late Western Han Dynasty
    1. L 8.5 cm, W 7.4 cm, T 0.4 cm

Exhibition-related information

  • Visually Challenging Forms

    Upon examination of the legs and claws near the center of the dragon’s body here, it can be seen that the body should be posterior to the legs and claws, while the neck and head should be anterior under natural circumstances; however, these positions have been reversed, and the legs and claws are attached to the dragon’s head and neck, while the body and the tail are posterior to the legs. Why would designers of the Western Han Dynasty create such unreasonable forms?

  • Are these Distorted Body Forms Truly Impossible?

    The three distorted divine beasts seen here have twisted body forms that completely defy physiological principles. The head, neck, front legs, torso, and hind legs of each beast point in opposing directions, and such a body position simply could not exist in real life. However, physicists suggest that this depiction may be a more accurate representation of the forms of these divine beasts when they enter a zone of curved space and time. So between the world that we perceive and the world that is “real”, which is real? And which is but an illusion?

  • Disappearing and Reappearing Dynamic Illusions

    These overlapping layers of cloud actually conceal ingenious creativity. This work was designed from a round piece of jade material, and among the misty clouds, two sacred dragons with fangs and long snouts are partly concealed. Towards the lower edge, legs and claws overlapping with long curved clouds can be seen, such that in the murky world of illusion and reality depicted, we cannot truly be sure how many dragons are concealed within the cloudy fog.


Jade Bixié

Jade Bixié

It is widely known that the Qianlong Emperor loved to collect elegant works of art, but it is less known that his collections did not simply include items that he appreciated aesthetically or which moved him emotionally; many items actually reflected his thoughts and opinions regarding the march of history and the changing of the dynasties. For example, from the poetry engraved on the chest of this Han era jade bixié, it can be determined that the Qianlong Emperor felt that the presence of this jade bixié, traditionally used as a ward against evil, nevertheless failed to prevent the Eastern Han Dynasty from collapsing as a result of political upheavals stemming from the usurpation of power by unscrupulous eunuchs. Read more of the poetry and texts that the Qianlong Emperor engraved upon jade artifacts, and one can gain a better understanding of the Emperor's mindset.

Designs Conforming with the Idiosyncrasies of Our Visual Senses

Designs Conforming with the Idiosyncrasies of Our Visual Senses

Our brains perceive the world as being three-dimensional, so we consider carvings in the round as being natural and reasonable, and find nothing objectionable about two-dimensional objects as well. Therefore, when we view this two-dimensional flat jade artifact, we naturally feel that the twists and turns of the dragon-serpent patterns are all reasonable. Now, can you see the four dragon-serpents depicted in the artifact?

Jade Zhi Cup

Jade Zhi Cup

This spectacular jade zhi cup overcame severe challenges in its initial design, not from the intricacy of its decorative patterns, but because the original form of this artifact was a jade cong from the Neolithic age about 4,000 years before now. Jade cong are hollow cylinders with a circular inner section and square exterior. About 2,000 years before now, Han era jade craftsmen added a base to the jade cong while preserving its original structure, and then carved and polished the square edges into fantastic decorative patterns, to create this masterful work that we see today. How can one not be awestruck at the ingenuity displayed in this masterpiece?

Jade Belt Buckle with Four Divine Beast Pattern

Jade Belt Buckle with Four Divine Beast Pattern

Upon this jade belt buckle, a dragon, beast, bird, and tortoise have been carved in relief, and these four divine beasts were a common motif for the cult of immortality that was popular during the Han era. Now, can you discern each divine beast on the buckle?

Jade Bi Disc with Double Beast Pattern

Jade Bi Disc with Double Beast Pattern

On the outer circle of this jade bi disc, four divine beasts have been engraved at regular intervals. Each divine beast has a head, and their flat bodies extend to each side of the head in a symmetrical pattern. Upon closer examination, the workmanship can be seen to be very basic, and quite rough in parts. The jade material is dark green in color, and contains impurities. However, such jade bi discs were ritualistically important, and served as exclusive funerary goods for the highest rank of nobility. Perhaps rough workmanship and lesser quality material were more suited for such funerary objects, and when you next see jade artifacts that appear rough and rudimentary, do not be disdainful of them.

Jade Huan Ring with Beast Pattern

Jade Huan Ring with Beast Pattern

The right leg and claws of this divine beast are located at the center of its torso, in conformance with physiological principles, but its left leg and claws extend from the back of the head in an unexpected fashion. Although such strange designs may be alien to our sense of perception, they may actually hew more closely to the concepts of space and time as defined by modern physics. Take a look at the Möbius strip depicted on the backboard; can you use your imagination and compare it with this artifact?

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