18 July 2019
People dig through the rubble of a demolished old home in Tengchong in the hope of finding jade stones. Credit:
People dig through the rubble of a demolished old home in Tengchong in the hope of finding jade stones. Credit:

Old town renovation in Yunnan city sparks jade fever

A Chinese version of gold rush is taking place in the historical city of Tengchong in Yunnan province, thanks to a plan of the local authorities to raze some old buildings under an urban renewal project.

The key difference in the modern-day tale, however, is this: the treasure hunters are looking for jade, not gold.

It all began as authorities announced recently a renovation plan for the city’s old downtown area, calling for some ancient structures and homes to be pulled down. 

Amid the demolition drive, people sensed an opportunity to find jade, an ornamental rock mineral that is considered precious and associated with Chinese conceptions of the soul and immortality.

If you are wondering why, let’s take a look back at the city’s ancient history.

Tengchong, which is close to the Chinese border with Myanmar and figures among the state-list of famous historical and culture cities, had been famous in the olden days for its jade trade.

One of the earliest developed regions in Southwest China, Tengchong was renowned for processing raw jade into highly valued stones, helping it earn the distinction of being “Top Jade City in China”.

It is believed that jade merchants in the old time meticulously selected from raw jade stones imported across the border and threw away those whose quality were deemed not good enough.

The discarded jade stones, along with residuals from processing, were then mixed with materials that were used to build homes and roads.

Now as the renovation project is seeing many old homes demolished, people with a quick mind have speculated that it could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them to make a fortune.

If one can dig out fractured jade stones hidden in the structures of the homes, there is chance to make big bucks, the speculators felt.

As reports came in that some people did indeed find the stones and made quick money, more and more citizens got into the treasure hunt, Beijing Youth Daily reports.

A netizen said in an online post that he saw first-hand how a jade hunter sold a stone for 390,000 yuan (US$58,473) soon after discovering it, comparing it to the US gold rush of the mid-nineteenth century.

Amid hopes of striking it rich, people have been digging frantically at various sites. In some cases, the jade hunters are sneaking into premises in the dead of night and digging with rudimentary tools.

As the jade fever rages in Tengchong, experts are advising people not to get carried away. 

Du Mausheng, chairman of the Jade Association of Tengchong City, reminded the public that the stones to be found in the structures of old homes are the residuals after processing.

The stones are usually of low quality, he said, adding that it would be almost impossible to find real high-quality ones.

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