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By Gavin Clarke Reviewed By Andreas Zabczyk Dec 09, 2014 Updated Feb 07, 2022

Chinese Chicken's Blood Stone

Chicken's Blood Stone Rough

One of the most sought-after materials in China is known as "chicken's blood stone", due to its bright red color. It is also called "Changhua stone" or "Balinyouqi stone", after the mining locations in Zhejiang Province and Inner Mongolia. One legend of Changhua states that a golden pheasant was bitten by a snake whilst flying over the mountain. It is said that the pheasant's blood fell into the cracks of the mountain and caused the redness of the stone.

Chicken's blood stone is a rock, rather than a mineral, that is composed of dickite; a polymorph of kaolinite, and quartz. It also has a variable amount of cinnabar, which gives it a distinctive vivid red color. Cinnabar is a remarkably dense mineral with a very high refractive index, which gives chicken's blood stone brilliance. Material that has a high cinnabar content and vivid color is generally highly valued. The vivid color of cinnabar fades when exposed to direct sunlight. Therefore, chicken's blood stone should be stored in a dark place to maintain its bright color.

Other colors that chicken's blood stone can exhibit are white, gray, brown, yellow and black. These colors can appear as spots, streaks or zones. The Mohs hardness score of chicken's blood stone is usually around 3, though this can vary due to the rock's changeable composition. It is semi-translucent to translucent and the luster is typically subadamantine to pearly. Translucent material is considered to be the most desirable.

Chicken's Blood Stone Cabochon
Chicken's Blood Stone Cabochon

Chicken's blood stone is also sometimes called "bloodstone". However, this can be a little misleading, since there is a type of chalcedony quartz with iron oxide inclusions that is known as bloodstone. Chicken's blood stone is also sometimes traded as "chicken's blood jade", however, it is notably softer than jade. This low level of hardness allows chicken's blood stone to be carved into intricate ornaments. This unique stone can therefore be fashioned into ornate objects of decoration and jewelry items such as bangles. It can also be found tumbled, carved, as beads or cabochon cut. However, chicken's blood stone jewelry should be only occasionally worn in protected settings due to its softness. Chicken's blood stone should be processed with care because of the mercury content in cinnabar. Chicken's blood stone can appear similar to red jasper, which is a variety of quartz, composed of silicon dioxide. Like bloodstone, the red of jasper is generally caused by the presence of iron oxide, rather than cinnabar.

In China, red is an auspicious color that symbolizes good fortune, prosperity and happiness. In fact, the bride and groom at traditional Chinese weddings dress in red and at Chinese New Year, red decorations are used to bring luck. Therefore, due to its bright red color, chicken's blood stone is seen as a lucky stone that makes an excellent amulet or gift.

The use of chicken's blood stone in China dates back centuries; a chicken's blood stone seal was documented as one of the cherished items of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Chicken's blood stone seals were also popular among emperors and concubines during the later Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The Dowager Empress Tz'u Hsi of the Ching Dynasty had a collection of chicken's blood stones, some of which fell into the hands of unlikely owners after the Boxer Uprising. The best-known chicken's blood stone specimens are a pair of seals that Zhou Enlai presented to the Japanese Prime Minister, Kakuei Tanaka in 1972. Another well-known specimen of chicken's blood stone is an elaborate carving of dragons with a pearl. It is displayed in "The Hidden Treasures of China" exhibition in Narukawa Art Museum, Kanagawa, Japan.

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