bookporn #17: a Northern Song imperial gold & jade ritual book, National Palace Museum, Taipei

gold & jade book

so, remember the thai strip-style books? This is the rich man’s version — in fact, the royal version. Instead of bamboo, the book is made of pale green-white jade; it’s tied together with gold wire rather than rope or twine; and the words are carved into the jade and FILLED IN WITH GOLD. This jade book is from the Northern Song dynasty period (dated circa 1008 A.D.) and contains the text of the Fengshan Sacrifice ceremonies performed by the Emperor Chen-Tsung, in which he traditionally conveys his wishes to Heaven, e.g. desire for long life, eternal harmony, peace etc.

Texts like these are particularly precious — this one was discovered in 1931 around Mount Tai in Shandong Province. Quite apart from their intrinsic value and OMG HOT BOOKBLING-NESS, they are historically valuable: it was considered improper for the Emperor’s divine conversation & wishes to be made public, so they were rarely ever written down in official documentation. There’s an excerpt from the Imperial Biography of Emperor Xiao Wu (140-87 B.C.) about the performance of the Fengshan ceremony:

封泰山下東方,如郊祠泰一之禮。封廣丈二 尺,高九尺,其下則有玉牒書,書祕。

or roughly: The Emperor erected an altar in the east of Mount Tai [for the Fengshan ceremony…]. The altar was two feet wide and nine feet tall; below it lay an official book made of jade, whose contents were secret …

and this is one of those jade books (!!!), whose contents were once the sacred privilege of one man and Heaven (and indeed lost to historical record) but are now splayed open for the world to see, stare at, drool over, at the National Palace Museum in Taipei — where I was until approx. 9 hours ago.

LITERALLY! — it is DIVINE.


2 responses to “bookporn #17: a Northern Song imperial gold & jade ritual book, National Palace Museum, Taipei

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