Origin of Jadeite

Chapter 1 section 1 Origin of Jadeite

Talking about jadeite, it’s natural to think about its oriental characteristics. Jadeite is favored by Chinese and considered high class and elegant by south east Asians.  Where is jadeite from? How is it discovered?

According to historical record:” Red jadeite green jadeite and icy glass jade are top of all jadeite, fine carved pieces by artisans can become family heirlooms. All from Hpakant.”

Jadeite are found in Hpakant area in Myanmar (Burma), north of  Myitkyina East 96°3′ North 25°8′. Since East Han Dynasty(25–220 AD), Chinese set provincial government in Tengchong, and ruled the area as far south as north of Myitkyinā including Hpakant. During Ming Dynasty, the provincial government changed name to TengYueFu. In the book “Dian Qian Travel Note” recorded that “green jade came from TengYue”. In the “Traffic History of China India and Burma”, it says”since Mongolian Yuan Dynasty that opened up the Dian area, for hundreds of year, the jadeite, ruby, sapphire, agate, amber and etc gems from Mengyang chieftain became noticed by mainland people due to convenient traffic. Traders mine the gems and trade them elsewhere. Yunan is located in the middle of the traffic and became an important market place. Therefore, gem buyers mistakenly thought that jadeite came from Yunnan and consequently called jadeite “Yunnan Jade”.” In 1885 Britain invaded Myanmar and seized the Hpakant area into British Burma control. Later on, jadeite is from Myanmar became the common knowledge. Therefore, jadeite had entered China as tribute as early as Han Dynasty, it was not recognized as “Feicui” at that time and only as a rare kind of jade to enter China.

Many jadeite mines are located in the Uyu river (Uyu Chaung) area in Northwest of Myanmar. From Mandalay, the second largest city of Myanmart, take the railway train north to Moguang, and then head west about 100 km, you will arrive at the famous jadeite city Hpakant by the Uyu river. Hpakant is a small city with only about 80 thousands regular residential population. The natural environment is harsh, extremely hot and wet, mosquitoes and other insects flourish in this weather. However, although the harsh living environment, jadeite from here attracts many people to come and trade. Over 1.8 million people travel to Hpakant for jadeite related business, among them Chinese are the majority, others include Burmese, Thai, Palestinian, and Indians etc.

Chinese started to recognize and appreciate Jadeite since late Ming Dynasty, for about 300 years till mid-20th century. During this period, people only picked the highest quality jadeite to mine. The standard for jadeite raw stone was extremely high at that time, unless it had the right water and color, all other jadeite were disposed or used for architectural purposes. The price for gem level jadeite were very cheap as well. Many famous raw stone were found during this period of time. For examples, during early Qing Dynasty a Tengchong native named YiWenDa mined a large jadeite called Qiluo Jade, it’s so large that it was sawed into thin slice to make a large square shaped hanging lantern; During Qing Dynasty GuangXu emperor period, the “Wang’s Family Jade” from WangXiangxian produced over 500 pairs of jadeite bangles, each pair is now valued about 1 million RMB equivalent to 0.15 million USD; Similarly, “Hui Ka Jade” from WangZhenKun’s Family living in Taiping Street weighted a few tons, was cut into 8 pieces of 80cm diameter circular plate, and 7 of them was asking for a price of a few million silver currency at that time; later on there were also a few large extremely high quality pieces of jadeite such as “Xiao’s Family Jade”, “Guan Fourth Jade”, “Duan’s Family Jade” etc. Nowadays, the old mine pit is drained and good quality jadeite is rare to find. Even if found, the size of the raw stone is very small but price is extremely surprisingly high. For example, in year 2000, the mine in Uyu river produced an excellent jadeite raw material that weighted only 7.5 kg but was sold for an amazing price of 24 million USD in Myanmar capital Rangoon.

It was very comical how jadeite became well known in Chinese history, the legend said it was YunNan caravans officially introduced the jadeite into mainland. The story was approximately during the end of Ming Dynasty and early Qing Dynasty. A Jingpuo native grocer doing business in Ruili often traveled back forth between today’s Chinese and Myanmar border region. Once before a Spring Festival, the grocer’s products were sold very quickly and his shoulder pole became imbalanced as he walked home so he randomly picked a stone from the mountain side and put it on the lighter side of his pole to keep balance. When he arrived home, he threw the stone away, when the stone hit the corner of the wall in his house, the stone cracked into two halves, and revealed inside green color. The crystal clear green stone immediately captured the grocer and the vast Chinese people. That is the depute of the jadeite that became highly esteemed by Chinese later on. Jadeite’s first random appearance in China received many attentions, and then because of its bright color, rarity, glassy gloss, texture, and hardness, it gradually became superior than nephrite jade and other jade stones.

The legend of jadeite started when it just came into China, people only knew it’s a beautiful jade, but no one knew its name. One day, a trader traveled from Burma to China with a cargo of jadeite raw stone. It was a very hot day, he stopped the cargo to rest by a beautiful lake with flowers and birds surrounding it. While he enjoyed the nature, he saw a pair of beautiful feathered bird in the middle of the lake, one bird has green feather and the other one has red feather. The trader never saw such beautiful birds, and at that moment, an elderly walked towards him. The trader asked the elderly,”old man, what kind of birds are those that are green and red in that lake?so beautiful”.  The elderly answered,”that’s our local ‘FuiCui’ bird, they are a kind of lucky birds that you can only see them once in a few years. You just arrive here and see them, you are very lucky!” The trader was very happy hearing that, and he took one jadeite raw stone and gave to the elderly as a gift. The elderly asked,” what kind of jade is this, the color and texture are so pretty!” Because at that time, this kind of jade stone still doesn’t have a name, the trader looked at the birds in the middle of the lake, and he surprisingly found out the color of the bird’s feather were very similar to his jade stone, when he stared at the birds, it was as if they were carved by his stone, so he immediately told the elderly, “this jade is called ‘FeiCui’.”

Ancient ‘Feicui’ is used to describe jade stone from a color perspective. After looking through some ancient documents, before the middle of Ming Dynasty, the term ‘Feicui’ means a type of bird, until the late Ming Dynasty, ‘Feicui’ became used for specific hard jade, thus completed the change of definition of it. From the poem XiDuFu by Bangu during Han Dynasty, it was written “Feicui” rose jade, the term was considered either to denote the color or the stone jade. Many historian and specialist pointed out that “Feicui” as a jade appeared in the history of China as early as Zhou Dynasty, these opinions had references, however, the term “Feicui” did not mean the same type of jadeite as we talked about today.