A Cicada of the Golden Empire
This exquisitely crafted Ming dynasty gold cicada on a jade leaf was excavated from the family tombs of an official named Zhang Anwan at Wufeng Mountain in Wu County, Jiangsu province in 1954. It is the top of a woman’s hairpin. The clear jade, brilliant gold and flawless workmanship show that it belonged to a woman of extremely high rank. The imagery of a cicada on a leaf had a double meaning. In classical Chinese, a play on words for the phrase golden cicada on a jade leaf (Jinchan Yuye) is similar to words that compliment a woman of unsurpassed beauty.
It is likely that this object was conceived as a burial item. Traditionally, the cicada symbolised rebirth. In ancient times, a small sculpture of the insect would be placed on the tongue of the deceased. Jade objects were often placed in the tombs of emperors and nobles as they were believed to protect the body from decay. In the Ming dynasty, ancient jade forms and patterns were revived as way of restoring Chinese heritage.