It happened that this evening we had a dish of Chinese cabbage, bok choy, on our dinner table. And a Facebook friend referred to the jade sculpture of the vegetable in his post. An interesting coincidence?
The National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan stands on a hilltop in the center of the capital city. I have been there. It houses hundreds of thousands of exquisite art objects from China's imperial courts, the world's largest permanent collection brought here by then President of China, Chiang Kai-shek, when he fled the communists to the island in 1949. The most famous masterpiece, however, isn't an elaborate scroll, a landscape painting or a heavy piece of jewelry. Rather, it's a little bok choy cabbage made of jadeite. Jade was reserved as a gift to be given to the imperial royalty in China to adorn their palaces.
Hardly larger than a human hand, this jadeite cabbage is a perfect carving made out of an imperfect, cracked and rippled stone. Sculpted by an anonymous artist, it measures only 7.4 inches long by 3.6 inches wide by 2 inches deep. The way it is displayed is spectacular. At the center of a large, darkened room, glistening in a glass case, the cabbage's dark green leaves furl around a katydid and a locust, and the stalk pales into a translucent white. Two pale green bugs rest lightly on its leaves.
This simple cabbage is a masterpiece of perfection because it stands apart from a long tradition of idealized perfection in jade carving. What a sculptor ordinarily looks for is a piece of flawless jade of one solid color without cracks. It is among the hardest stones to work with. This piece of jadeite not only was cracked but had cloudy, opaque patches, which are visible in the white part of the cabbage's stalk. It's also a relatively young work, barely a hundred years old.
The cabbage's anonymous creator had to painstakingly grind away using the sand of even harder rocks, like rubies or garnets. There's none of the chiseling associated with carving marble, for example. That makes the two tiny bugs, with their reaching antennae and their long spindly legs that stand unsupported, especially remarkable achievements. He was a obviously a master carver who produced a masterpiece by using the weaknesses he found to make something strong and perfect. This valuable, diminutive piece of art is making an international tour to be displayed in famous museums of the world.
What a striking symbol of how our Master Creator works on us who are His weak, imperfect, flawed, common humanity! The bok choy cabbage is the most common and lowly vegetable on any Chinese table. It grows in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and combinations of white and shades of green.
The Master Sculptor sees us not as we are, a cracked and unusable block of jade. He visualizes us as what we can become when we surrender to His skill. “But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature...for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'” He takes our failures and defects and blemishes and makes something beautiful and priceless from something so mundane and ordinary.
One day we too will be found in the palace of the King of Kings.