During the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), the Manchu government—for military, political, and commercial reasons—overhauled its infrastructure to improve communications with the far-flung outposts of its empire. These improvements bolstered the luxury goods market in particular by permitting increased access to the vast jade deposits of Xinjiang, Yunnan, and Myanmar (Burma). Once a material solely reserved for the emperor and the court, jade, crafted into objects of personal adornment, soon became available to scholars and merchants as well.
This belt hook is carved out of a single piece of bright green Burmese jadeite. Elegant in shape, and finding inspiration in an archaic form dating from at least the Zhou dynasty (1050–221 b.c.), it has been polished to a high sheen. Following convention, the underside is undecorated, and the top displays a small chi dragon in raised relief facing the striking head of a significantly larger dragon, also in raised relief. Their playful interaction underscores the traditional role of the chi dragon as an auspicious symbol of scholarly wisdom. Although belt hooks used to fasten cloth belts were traditionally crafted of metal, the later examples in jade, such as this, sig-naled the strong appeal of archaic forms and popular imagery throughout the arts of China.