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Chicken-Blood stone is one of the most prized ornamental materials in China. The stone gets its name for its bright red color, resembling fresh chicken blood. The stone has eight basic colors, which blend or combine in different layers: red, black, white, yellow, green, blue, gray, and purple. It is primarily used in carvings and seals.
Chicken blood stone is a fine-grained mixture of clay and quartz, with varying amounts of red cinnabar. Since both the clay and cinnabar are very soft, it has cannot be worn in jewelry and is reserved for ornamental objects. Besides, since cinnabar contains mercury sulfide, which is highly toxic. Care also needs to be used when storing the material, as cinnabar tends to darken when exposed to sunlight. It is the bright red of the cinnabar that gives this material it distinct appearance and any darkening will lower its value.
Chicken blood stone is found only in Changhua County (Linan district, Zhejiang Province) in China and Balin County in Inner Mongolia. However, the stones extracted from the former region are considered more precious and valuable for their higher quality and vibrant color. Balin stones contain less cinnabar and are looser and softer in texture and appearance.
According to records, the first excavation occurred in the early Ming Dynasty, six hundred years ago. The excavator who found the chicken blood stone reported it and sent it to the emperor. During imperial times, all chicken blood stone had to be sent to the Imperial House, so commoners had no chance of ever seeing it in their lifetime. The stone was a national treasure exclusively owned by the imperial family.
The emperor would give the stones to high-ranking officials on special occasions, and only officials above a certain rank were allowed to have it. The stones were also used as accessories on the hats of those officials to show honor. Thus, the stone became a symbol of power.