May 25, 2011

The Jade Rush

Jade Prospector  Hotan, Xinjiang Province, China

Hotan played an important role as the major market on the oldest Silk Road route. Situated at the base of the Kunlum Mountains and the southern rim of the Taklamakan Desert, it was renowned as a silk weaving center. Yet, centuries later, it’s the unique White Jade that is still being dug from the White Jade River in Hotan today.

To get a better look, I decided to travel up river to Malika Awat, a small village 6km north of Hotan, to see what the locals were digging up. Its was Saturday, and the air thick and mysterious from the sand storm kicking in from the north.

A bad sign for as the car drove up to the edge of the river the view was a dismal empty gravel pit. Except for one lonely Jade prospector, and his team of three men, they were all that was left on the dry riverbed that day. I decided to pay him a visit, and with trepidation, hobbled over the smooth blue and grey stones to find out his story. Its seemed all the other villagers had left due to the sand storm but this man was still working because he was living at the side of the river since his village is 75 miles away. His enthusiasm increased with the news that a villager found a piece of Jade the size of a man’s hand that morning. It was worth an estimated 500,000RMB or $77,000US. I wished him well, and commended him for his perseverance when I learned that this risky endeavor had cost him over 10,000.RMB or $1,500.00US. That’s a lot of money to the Uyghur household. I could only imagine what his wife was thinking as he slept each night alone amongst the rocks.

The next day, while enroute in the opposite direction to the Imam Asim Shrine, I   discovered the big business of Jade, in the 21st century.  The sight and sounds of the gigantic earthmovers was stunning in contrast to the vision of yesterday.

But, it was the small family of one woman and her two children, picking away at the earth that gave me the sense of the desperation. They were all there for the unlikely chance of finding a single piece of jade. The precious stone, when unearthed, glimmers a radiant light that even the smallest pebble is revealed from amongst the other rocks.

Dig for Jade Hotan, Xinjiang Province, China

Earth Moving Red Hotan, Xinjiang Province, China

Picking in Blue  Hotan, Xinjiang Province, China

Stone Seller  Hotan, Xinjiang Province, China

The real business is conducted at the outdoor Jade Market where dozens of prospectors come face to face with the merchants and middlemen involved in the modern Jade trade. Vendors, like this young girl with her stones displayed, compete for the highest price. Like all the others, she is armed with a water bottle from which she continually shoots the stones with water to make them shine.

1 gram of Hotan White Jade A+ quality is valued at 15,000.00RMB or $2,310US
Last year a camel herder dug up a baseball size piece of Jade that earned him 800,000RMB or $123,000US. 

Mt. Ararat

Marla Mossman

My photo
One woman traveling alone, in search of her religious and cultural heritage.