The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

Dispatch from Xinjiang: Searching for Jade in Hotan

China has inserted a ring of jade inlay in the 2008 Olympic medals. It makes perfect sense—for thousands of years, jade has represented all that is desirable in a person and a ruler in China. The value of jade transcends mere money—there’s a Chinese saying that “Gold is valuable, but jade is invaluable.” It’s so invaluable, in fact, that Hotan jade sells for a whopping $120 a gram. Confucius wrote that the stone has eleven virtues which people should emulate to ensure a harmonious society. Today, it also represents a twelfth idea: to get rich is glorious.

The jade from the Yorungkash, the river that flows through Hotan, was given directly to the Imperial Palace. Emperors often sought out Hotan’s “mutton-fat” jade as symbols of the wisdom of their rule. In the Book of Rites from about 300 BC, Li Ji wrote, “If a ruler perfectly observes the rites of the state, white jade will appear in the valley.” Not wanting to take chances, the Ming Court paid exorbitant amounts for Hotan jade to ensure the appearance of receiving tributes of white jade—proof that the Imperial Court had followed the proper rites. People have been overpaying for jade ever since.

Today, next to the Yorungkash River is a used-car lot. Norlan, my Uighur guide in Hotan, told me that people have discovered large pieces of jade and then walked out of the river bed and immediately exchanged it for a car. Thousands of people for thousands of years have walked in and along the river turning over rocks looking for the precious stone.

The day I searched for jade, the sky was grey; the ground was grey; even the river was an opaque grey. There was no foilage on the banks of the river—the entire scene was just grey. But as I found out, when you immediately pull a rock from the water, its colors look brilliant—every white rock looks like “mutton-fat.” Jade comes in shades of brown, green, red, and black—which means every rock that had even a hint of color appeared to have real jade hues. Norlan, my volunteer guide, and I slowly built up a pile of rocks that might possibly be jade, but as soon as the rock dried, the color disappeared, and we were left with a pile of grey rocks. We didn’t find anything—let alone something we could exchange for a car. I guess after thousands of years the jade is pretty picked over.

Category: Blog Entries

Tagged: ,

One Response

  1. Christina says:

    Well, it sounds like you had fun at any rate. :)

Leave a Reply