Globalization and the Jade Trade

Jade is ubiquitous in China. I’ve seen Jade in almost every museum gift shop (and most museums have two), in Zoo jewelry stores, in vendor stands, and small markets. Most jade one can buy in Shanghai is fake, and I’ve probably bought at least three fake pieces. Personally, I don’t care if it’s fake or real as long as I believe it’s real, but that’s only because I only buy jade in petty quantities. I’ve spent the last few days wondering where the Shanghai’s jade comes from, both the real and fake. Historically, and even today much of China’s jade production comes from Xinjiang province, specifically, the Hotan Jade mines.

Globalization has revolutionized jade production in China. Today, China receives large quantities of Jadeite from Burma. Jade production in Burma exploded after Burma’s 1994 ceasefire. This impetus spurred Chinese investment in the region. Today, Burma’s military government owns and operates Burma’s vast jade mines. Gems are Burma’s 3rd largest export and help prop up society. However, this has created vast inequality and social ills in Burma’s society. Workers do (literally) backbreaking work in poisonous conditions and earn less than a dollar a day. Burma’s military regularly abuses workers. Environmental conditions are falling apart. Water near mines is laced with heavy metals; birth defects are skyrocketing, and health care services are nonexistant.

The mines have becomes havens for heroine, meth and opium. Jade picker Aik San estimates that 75% of Jade miners in the norther Burmese city of Hpakant are addicted to Drugs. One common practice to pay drug addicted employees is to just shoot them up with more heroine. This happens to about 500,000 miners.  Nine out of Ten addicted workers have HIV. Intravenous drug use combined with a thriving sex industry has created an HIV/AIDS epidemic that is spilling into China. China’s HIV cases are highest in Yunan provence which borders Burma.


China aids map



The United states passed the “Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act of 2008” which blocks third party jade from entering the United States. China has not passed any such sanctions.  China, through both legal and smuggling channels receives a large portion of Burma’s jade. Burmese jade, commonly sold in China is essentially a blood diamond. Because rich Chinese ethically blind businessmen lavish themselves with jade,  slaves chained to an addiction are toil and bleed for essentially nothing. I’m glad I accidentally probably bought fake jade.


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This is a jade time piece at a museum in Shanghai. The picture is fuzzy both because of bad camera work, and to represent my new disillusionment with jade.