The history of Burma’s jade mines in the West is a brief one. While hundreds of different reports, articles and even books exist on the famous ruby deposits of Mogok, only a handful of westerners have ever made the journey to northern Burma’s remote jade mines and wrote down their findings. Occidental accounts of the mines make their first appearance in 1837.
Jade, a shade of pain, and then you die.
Seal, Deep Water
Although in 1836, Captain Hannay obtained specimens of jadeite at Mogaung during his visit to the Assam frontier (Hannay, 1837), Dr. W.Griffiths (1847) was the first European to actually visit the mines, in 1837 (Griffiths, 1847). The following is his account, as given in Scott and Hardiman (1900-1901):
These celebrated serpentine mines occupy a valley of somewhat circular form, and bounded on all sides by thickly wooded hills of no great height. To the north the valley passes off into a ravine, down which a small streamlet that drains the valley escapes, and along this at a distance of two or three miles another spot of ground affording serpentine is said to occur. The valley is small; its greatest diameter, which is from east to west, being about three quarters of a mile, and its smallest breadth from four hundred and sixty to six hundred or seven hundred yards.
The whole of the valley, which appears formerly to have been occupied by rounded hillocks, presents a confused appearance, being dug up in every direction, and in the most indiscriminate way, no steps being taken to remove the earth, &c., that have been thrown up in various places during the excavations. Nothing in fact like a pit or shaft exists, nor is there anything to repay one for the tediousness of the march from Kamaing. The stone is found in the form of more or less rounded boulders mixed with other boulders of various rocks and sizes imbedded in a brick-coloured yellow, or nearly orange-coloured clay, which forms the soil of the valley, and which is of considerable depth. The excavations vary much in form, some resembling trenches; none exceed twenty feet in depth. The workmen have no mark by which to distinguish at sight the serpentine from the other boulders; to effect this fracture is resorted to, and this they accomplish, I believe, by means of fire. I did not see the manner in which they work or the tools they employ, all the Shans having left for Kamaing, as the season had already been over for some days. No good specimens were procurable.
W. Griffiths, 1847
Journals of Travels in Assam, Burma,
Bootan, Afghanistan, and the Neighbouring Countries.
In 1888, two years after their annexation of Upper Burma, the British dispatched a military expedition to the jade mines. Accompanying the troops was an Englishman, W.Warry, whose account of the history and working of the mines is one of the best. According to Charles Crosthwaite (1912), Chief Commissioner of Burma for 1887-1890, Warry was the expedition’s advisor on Chinese affairs:
He belonged to the Chinese Consular Service, spoke Chinese well, and understood that difficult people as well as an Englishman can. He was on most friendly terms with the Chinese in Burma, and could trust himself to them without fear.
Crosthwaite, 1912, The Pacification of Burma
Warry’s description of the mines was given in the Myitkyina District Gazetteer (Hertz, 1912) and is reproduced here in its entirety:
The jadestone or nephrite, has been known in China from a period of high antiquity. It was found originally in Khoten and other parts of Central Asia, and being of a brilliant white colour and very costly, it was held in high esteem as symbolical of purity in private and official life. The green variety of the stone seems to have been extremely rare, but not entirely unknown, for attempts are recorded to produce its colour artificially by burying white jade in juxtaposition with copper. The discovery that green jade of fine quality occurred in Northern Burma was made accidentally by a small Yunnanese trader in the thirteenth century. The story runs that on returning from a journey across the frontier he picked up a piece of stone to balance the load on his mule. The stone proved to be jade of great value and a large party went back to procure more of it. In this errand they were unsuccessful, nobody being able to inform them where the stone occurred. Another attempt, equally fruitless, was made by the Yunnan Government in the fourteenth century to discover the stone; all the members of the expedition, it is said, perished by malaria, or at the hands of hostile hill-tribes. From this time onwards, for several centuries, no further exploration in the jade country seems to have been undertaken by the Chinese. Small pieces of the stone occasionally found their way across the frontier, but the exact source of the supply continued unknown.
The year 1784 marks the final termination of a protracted series of hostilities between Burma and China, and from this time dates the opening of a regular trade between the two countries. Adventurous bands of Chinese before long discovered that the jade-producing districts lay on the right bank of the Uru river, and a small but regular supply of the stone was now conveyed every year to Yunnan.
Impracticable roads, a malarious climate, and an unsettled country prevented the expansion of the trade. Some twenty or thirty Chinese at the most went up into the jade country each season and a very small proportion of these ever returned. In the Chinese temple at Amarapura is a long list containing the names of upwards of 6,000 Chinese traders deceased in Burma since the beginning of the present century to whom funeral rites are yearly paid. The large majority of these men are known to have lost their lives in the search for jade. The roll includes only the names of well-known and substantial traders. Could the number of smaller traders and adventurers who perished in the same enterprise be ascertained, the list would be swelled to many times its present size.
The earliest route followed by the jade traders led from Momein to Kunyung Lien and Chansi on the Yunnan frontier. Here the Kachin Hills were entered and a week’s journey over exceedingly difficult mountain-tracks brought the travellers to Kachins-Yimma on the Irrawaddy, a place which appears to be some distance above Talawgyi. The river being crossed here, the parties made their way as best they could towards Hsimu (Seikmo) [Sate Mu] in the valley of the Uru river, which they usually reached after a toilsome march of some ten days. The Hsimu quarries were first discovered in 1790; they yielded a very brilliant jade, pieces of which are said to have been sometimes exchanged at Momein for their weight in silver.
In 1798 the Chinese traders at Ava, with the assistance of the Burmese Government, opened up a new route to the mines, namely from Ava to Menrua (Monywa), thence up the Chindwin and Uru rivers to Serua (Seywa), from which place the mines then worked were distant some two days’ journey by land. The trade in jade now developed rapidly, and Serua, being the depot, rose into considerable importance. After some years, however, this route became insecure owing to the hostility of certain Kachin tribes who commenced to waylay and rob caravans; and the original Kutung (Kuyung) route being for similar reasons unavailable, another new overland road was adopted, namely from Katha via Mawlu, Mohnyin and Loastun (Lawsun) to Endaw (Indaw); thence three days to the mines.
The direct road into China via Bhamo had been known for centuries, but fear of the Kachins appears to have deterred traders from making a regular use of it. Even cotton from Lower Burma was constantly sent up by river past Bhamo to Tsenbo (Sinbo) or to Talaw, and was conveyed thence by mules into Yunnan. In 1805 the first consignments of jade were sent down the Mogaung river to Tsenbo (Sinbo), where they were given into the charge of the cotton caravans; and from 1807 for some years a favourite route for jade was from the mines by way of Myuhung (old Mogaung), Tapaw, and Hokat to Talaw on the Irrawaddy, whence the stone travelled overland with the cotton caravans via Sima, Tachai (the frontier between Burma and outlying tribes dependent on China) and Sanda (Santa) (the frontier of China proper) to Momein (Tengyueh). This route is still used to a small extent. It is under the protection of a powerful Chinese family at Tachai called Chao, to whom travellers pay a fixed sum for safe conduct.
Early in the present century the Burmese Kings seem to have become aware of the importance of the jade trade and of the revenue which it might be made to yield them. In 1806 a Burmese Collectorate was established at the site of what is now the town of Mogaung, and a guard of some thirty Burmese troops under a Military Officer was regularly stationed at the mines during the working season to protect the trade and to maintain order. This force was always accompanied by the Amatgyi, or hereditary noble, of the Mogaung district, whose special duty was to control the hill-tribes. The principal Kachin Sawbwas [princes] were also in the habit of meeting the Burmese official in Mogaung and escorting him up to the mines, where they provided him with entertainment during his stay.
Mogaung now became the headquarters of the jade trade in Burma. Comparatively few Chinese actually went up to the mines; the Kachins themselves brought down most of the stone to Shuitunchun, a sandbank opposite Mogaung, where a large bazaar was held during the season. The Burmese Collector imposed no tax upon the stone until it was ready to leave Mogaung, when he levied an ad valorem duty of 33 per cent, and issued a permit which was examined by his deputy at Tapaw, one day’s journey from Mogaung by river. After this the stone passed freely anywhere in Burma without further charge or inspection. The value of jade was determined for purposes of taxation by an official appraiser. This officer, however, by private arrangement with the traders and the Collector, estimated all stone about one-third of its real value. The actual duty paid was therefore small and business proceeded smoothly, cases of friction between the traders and the customs officers being of very rare occurrence. All payments were made in bar silver. The metal used was at first fairly pure, but it was soon debased by a large admixture of lead. Rupees did not come into general use until 1874.
Besides the duty leviable at Mogaung, the stone had to bear certain charges, authorized and unauthorized, at the mines and Namiakyaukseik (Nanyaseik), one day’s journey from the mines:-(1) The Burmese officer at the mines imposed a monthly tax of 1 tael (about 4 annas) on everybody who came to trade; from this charge Burmans and actual workers in the mines were exempt; (2) a further sum of 2.5 taels (about 10 annas) was charged for a pass which was issued for each load of jade leaving the mines for Namiakyaukseik; (3) at Namiakyaukseik 4 taels (about a rupee) was paid on the arrival of every load to an agent of the Mogaung Collector permanently stationed there. Of these charges the Chinese regarded the first and third as legitimate, and the second as an unauthorized gratuity to the subordinates of the Mines Officer. All the above charges seem to have varied slightly from year to year.
The Kachins levied no toll on stones at the mines or proceeding down to Mogaung. Their rights appear to have been well understood and respected. They were regarded as the absolute owners of all the stone produced in their country. This ownership was never directly called in question by the King of Burma. As I shall point out below, the furthest length he went in this direction was to exclude all competition during the years when he bought jade from the Kachins. The Kachins on their side acknowledged the sovereignty of the King of Burma by admitting his officers to mines; by allowing them to purchase a certain quantity of stone for the Kings’ use at a nominal price; and by acquiescing in certain charges imposed by those officers and in certain interferences at the mines, whereby the price of their stone was injuriously affected. I shall advert below to the rights of Kachin Sawbwas over their own people engaged in the jade-mining.
Under the system just described, the jade trade continued to flourish for many years. The period of its greatest prosperity is comprised within the years 1831-40, during which time at least 800 Chinese and 600 Shans were annually engaged in business or labour at the mines. All the stone was sent by one of the abovementioned routes to Yunnanfu, at this time the great emporium of the trade. The business there was mainly in the hands of Cantonese merchants, who bought the rough stone in large quantities and carried it back to be cut and polished at Canton.
In 1841 war broke out between Great Britain and China. Hostilities first commenced at Canton and the effect on the jade trade was not long in making itself felt. Cantonese merchants no longer came to buy stone at Yunnanfu. Stocks accumulated and Yunnan traders ceased to go up to the mines. The Kachins, suffering from this stoppage of business, made urgent representations to the Burmese at Mogaung; and in 1842 a Burmese Officer proceeded from Mogaung to Momein to enquire if any offence had been given to Chinese traders that they did not come as usual to the mines. There was a partial revival of the trade for a few years commencing with 1847, but the disturbed state of Southern China, consequent upon the Taiping rebellion of 1850 prevented a complete recovery; and with the outbreak of the Panthay rebellion in 1857 the roads leading to Yunnanfu were blocked and all business in jade came to a standstill for several years.
During the early part of the period just passed in review the Chinese estimate that the average amount of duty collected each year did not exceed Rs. 6,000, the output of jade being small and the official appraisers venal. About the year 1836, when the trade was most flourishing, Rs. 21,000 was the probable amount of the annual collections. After 1840, the duty fell to Rs.3,000 or less, and then it dwindled away to nothing. The above estimates are probably below the mark, as the Chinese would for obvious reasons, be inclined to understate the real amount.
The year 1861 witnessed a great improvement in the jade trade. From that date until now, the bulk of the stone has been carried by sea to Canton. In 1861 the first Cantonese merchants [merchant] arrived in Mandalay. He bought up all the old stocks of jade and conveyed them to China by sea, realising a large fortune on this single venture. His example was quickly followed by other Cantonese, and once more the trade in jade revived and numerous Yunnanese went up to the mines. The principal quarries were now at Sanka, a place recently visited by the Mogaung column. Stone had been discovered there many years before, but had been pronounced poor in quality and scarcely worth the troubles of working. Now, however, upon a second trial, it proved to be equal or superior to that from the earlier mines, the colour having, as the Kachins alleged, matured and deepened in the interval. The yearly duty collected at this time probably amounted to at least Rs.27,000.
Hitherto the collection of the duty had been in the hands of an official who had paid a very high price at Ava for his appointment and who was in the habit of remitting to the capital only as much as he thought fit-usually about one-fifth of the actual receipt. In 1866 the tax was farmed out for the first time. The price obtained was Rs.60,000 for a three-years’ lease. At the expiration of this term the King, dissatisfied with the amount of the jade revenue, determined to buy all the stone from the Kachins himself, and he appointed a high official to act as his agent at the mines. For a whole season Chinese and other dealers in jade were excluded from the mines; as the stone was dug up, it was purchased by the King’s agent, carried to Mogaung and there retailed to the traders. This arrangement was of course highly unsatisfactory to the Kachins, who first protested against the exclusion of other purchasers and then, finding their protest of no avail, resorted to the much more effectual method of curtailing the supply of stone and producing only pieces of indifferent quality. For this reason the King’s experiment was a failure and the total revenue he secured did not equal the proceeds derived from the sale of the monopoly in the preceding year. The Chinese explain the failure on other grounds. The experiment, they say, was doomed from the outset owing to the inherent impropriety of a sovereign descending into the arena of trade and taking the bread out of the mouths of his own subjects.
During the years 1870, 1871 and 1872, the King obtained an annual remittance of Rs.12,000 from the Collector at Mogaung on account of the jade duty. In the following year new deposits of fine jade were discovered at Mantiemho, and the King again determined to become the sole purchaser from the Kachins. On this occasion, too, the revenue he realized fell far below the average of former years.
In 1874 the old system was reverted to and the collection amounted to Rs.60,000. Once more in 1875, the King undertook to buy the stone himself from the Kachins and again the experiment failed, though not so badly as on the two previous attempts. About this time the Iku quarry was discovered and, the output being very good, the right of collecting the duty was sold in 1876 for three years for the sum of Rs.60,000. In 1880, Wu Chi, the son of a Canton Chinaman by a Burmese mother, obtained a three years’ lease of the monopoly at the rate of Rs.50,000 a year. In the second year of his term Tomo (Tawmaw) quarries were opened and he made an immense fortune.
In the autumn of 1883, Mogaung was sacked by the Kachins, and during the ensuing winter and spring there was no trade in jade. In June 1884, order having been partially restored, a Chinese syndicate represented by Li Te Su took the monopoly for three years agreeing to pay Rs.10,000 the first year, Rs.15,000 the second, and Rs.20,000 the third.
The up-country was still unsettled and the lessees, by arrangement with the traders, were permitted to collect duty at Bhamo instead of, as herebefore, at Mogaung. During the first two years of their term, owing to the disturbances connected with the adventurer Hsiao Chin (Hawsaing) and the British occupation of Upper Burma they collected little or no duty; but the proceeds of the third year left them with a margin of Rs.20,000 over and above their total expenses for the three years.
The tax was then farmed out by the British Government to Loenpin, the present lessee. Matters between him and the jade merchants did not proceed smoothly. Loenpin from the first was very strict in exacting his rights. He taxed every piece of jade at Bhamo and Mandalay that did not bear plain marks of the stamp of his predecessor, and he declined, contrary to the practice of all his predecessors, to make allowance in cases where the stamp had been obliterated through frequent washing of the stone or by long storage underground. He also refused to admit free of duty certain small re-imports of stone from Momein about which previous lessees had made no difficulty. So far Loenpin was acting within strict legal rights. His action in other respects was more questionable. No duty had ever been collected at Mogaung until the stone was reported ready to leave the place, when duty was paid and a pass issued. Stone might thus remain at Mogaung for years and change hands many times without being subjected to any charge. Loenpin, however, insisted that all jade should pay duty to him within five days from its arrival at Mogaung. This new regulation bore very hardly upon the small traders in jade. For example, such a man might have been lucky enough to secure a stone worth a thousand rupees. On his arrival at Mogaung Loenpin would say to him: ‘I value your stone at five hundred rupees; pay me the duty (Rs.166) within five days.’ In many cases the owner would not be able to raise this sum at so short a notice; and if he failed to do so, Loenpin claimed to buy the stone at his own valuation, that is to say, for just what it was really worth.
In addition to rendering himself obnosious [obnoxious] to all traders in jade Loenpin had roused the apprehension of the Kachin owners of the mines. He had made no secret from the first of his intention, not merely to collect the duty, but to get the actual management of the mines into his own hands. When the Chinese and Kachins, by way of reprisals, stopped the supply of jade for some weeks, he openly announced that this did not matter, for the English were shortly coming to put him into armed possession of the mines which he then intended to work with imported labour from Singapore.
The unpopularity which Loenpin had earned among all classes interested in the jade trade culminated last December in the cowardly outrage made upon him at Mogaung, which resulted in his death. The jade-producing country may be roughly described as the large district lying between the 25th and 26th parallels of latitude, and enclosed east and west by the Uru and Chindwin rivers respectively. Small quantities of jade have at one time or another been discovered over nearly the whole of this tract, but the stone occurs in greatest abundance at places near to the right bank of the Uru and considerable quantities have been found in the bed of that stream. The names of the quarries most celebrated in times past for the excellence of their output are Hsimu [Sate Mu], Masa, Mopang and Tamukan [near Haungpa]. All these places appear to be within the boundaries given above and to lie at no great distance from one another. They have all ceased to yield jade except in minute quantities, and they are now termed the ‘old mines,’ Sanka being the latest name added to this list.
Jade also occurs at few isolated points outside the area just described. At Mawhooh, one days’ march on the road from Mohnyin to Katha, the Chinese have recently reopened an old quarry the output of which in former years was very rich. And the most celebrated, perhaps, of all jade deposits appears to lie at a distance of several days’ journey from the principal mining districts. The place is called by the Chinese ‘Nantelung,’ meaning the ‘difficult of access,’ or ‘the unapproachable place.’ It is described as [a] large cliff overhanging the Chindwin, the country being passed through being very malarious and infested with wild animals and savage tribes. The stone can only be obtained by swarming up the face of the cliff with the aids of ropes and dislodging small portions with a hammer. The water underneath is deep and the stone is thrown down into the boats specially strengthened by a double platform of bamboo erected across the deck. Many pieces are lost in the river and cannot be recovered except by expert divers. As no Chinese have ventured to go up to Nantelung for at least twenty years, the foregoing particulars may be exaggerated or incorrected in some respects, but there seems to be no doubt of the existence in that region of a deposit of jade possessing remarkable brilliance and value. I have myself at Peking seen specimens of jade said to come from Nantelung and I have heard descriptions of the place very similar to that just given.
Sanka was the first point in the jade country visited by the Mogaung column. It was reached after a march of some seventy miles from Mogaung in a direction almost exactly north-west. Up to Sakaw, one-half of the distance, the way led for the most part through dense jungle, with a few pleasing breaks of comparatively open forest land. At Sakaw the Endaw river was crossed, and the path onwards became hilly and in some places exceedingly difficult on account of the narrowness of the track and the steep gradients. The country traversed was more open and some magnificent stretches of forest land were passed through. Sanka is situated on the right bank of the Uru just opposite its junction with the Nansant stream. Some twenty years ago Sanka was celebrated for its output of fine jade, but the supply has long been exhausted, and the place is now almost deserted. I spent the greater part of a day in visiting the excavations of former years. Thousands of pits had been dug along the sides of the low hills and in the small intervening valleys. The diameter of the pits rarely exceeded ten or twelve feet at the mouth, and the average depth was about twelve feet. At two of these quarries work was still proceeding. A few Kachins were engaged in lazily bailing out water and detaching small pieces of stone which they brought up one after another to the brow of the pit, and, after a moment’s inspection, pronounced to be worthless. In answer to my inquiry if they ever found a good piece, they replied that this event happened sometimes once in three months, sometimes once in six. The discovery of a good piece, however, recompensed them for many months of labour. The pits they were working belonged to a small Kachin Sawbwa, who gave them nothing but their food unless they discovered jade, when they obtained a fair share of the price realized. They told me that at many other old mines a few men were still at work who thought themselves lucky if, in the course of a year, they brought one or two pieces to light, and they added that the bed of the Uru is still diligently searched with much the same disproportionate results.
Sanka is the last of the ‘old mines.’ The ‘new mines’ have produced immense quantities of stone, but none which approaches in quality that yielded by the quarries of former years. It will be convenient here to indicate briefly by points of difference between the old stone and the new. The value of jade is determined mainly by the colour, which should be a particular shade of dark green. The colour however, is by no means everything; semi-transparency, brilliancy, and hardness are also essential. Stone which satisfies these four conditions is very rare. The last three qualities were possessed to perfection by a large proportion of the old stone, but the dark-green colour was rare and often absent altogether. The new stone, on the other hand, possess abundant colour, but is defective in the other three respects, being as a rule opaque, dull and brittle in composition. These natural defects are aggravated by the injurious methods employed in quarrying the new stone. A peculiarity which gave high value to all stone found at the old mines was that [it] occurred in the form of moderate size round lumps, having often the appearance of water-worn boulders, and small enough to be detached and carried away without undergoing any rough process of cleavages on the spot. At the new mines the stone occurs in immense blocks which cannot be quarried out by any tools possessed by the Kachins, but have to be broken up by the application of heat, a process which, without doubt, tends to make the stone more brittle and chalk-like.
These defects were not fully realized the first year that the new mines were opened. The output of stone was large and the competition keen. Hitherto only men of some capital had been able to engage regularly in the trade. It had been impossible to do more than guess at the value of any old stone, for each piece was complete in itself and was usually protected by a thick outer capsule which effectually concealed the colour within. All pieces therefore fetched a high price, as any piece might on cutting prove to be of immense value. But with the opening of the new mines, stone could not be bought in fragments of any shape and size, and it was possible by the processes of washing and holding in a strong light to determine with comparative exactitude the amount and nature of the colour. The trade was thus brought within the means of a large number of men who had not before been in a position to take part in it. There was accordingly a rush for the new mines in 1881, and the speculation in jade reached a height not attained before. Large fortunes were made by those who had the good luck to dispose of their stone before its defects were discovered. In the second year there was a heavy fall in prices, which involved the ruin of more than one of the largest jade merchants.
On 9th February  the column marched from Sanka to Tomo (Tawmaw), the largest of the new mines, all of which, namely, Pangmo, Iku, Martiemmo and Mienmo, are situated in the near neighbourhood. The road was broad, very steep in places, and after the first few miles it continually ascended. It led for the most part through grand forest scenery, the kanyin, the gangaw, and the cotton wood being the prevailing trees. Here and there narrow belts of bamboo jungle were passed through, but the undergrowth was as a rule scanty. At the end of seven and a half miles from Sanka we emerged upon a broad plateau, some hundreds of acres in extant, the whole of which had been cleared for mining purposes. The excavations, which were in some cases of considerable depth, presented the general appearance of a series of limestone quarries at home. The largest quarry measured about 50 yards in length by 40 broad and 20 deep. The bottom was flooded to a depth of a few feet. It is the joint property of 120 Kachins in equal shares, one of which is held by Kansi Nawng, the principal Sawbwa of the district. No work was going on, and we saw no valuable pieces of jade, all such having probably been hidden before our arrival; but round the edge of the pits and along the paths were lying tons upon tons of stone valuable in China, but not sufficiently valuable to repay the cost of transport and the charges by the way. There was a mob of several hundred people at Tomo [Tawmaw] when we arrived. Among them I discovered only three Chinese, who expressed much surprise at our having been allowed to come up; the rest were Shans and Kachins.
The Kachins of the jade country are described by the Chinese as very different in disposition to the cognate tribes dwelling between Bhamo and Yunnan. In outward appearance, however, the resemblance was complete; and the language, Father Cadeaux informs me, is identical. But, unlike their cousins of the Bhamo frontier, the Kachins at the jade mines are naturally inclined to be peaceable and honest in their dealings with strangers. They treat all traders with great kindness and consideration; and although sums of money, amounting to several lakhs [one lakh = 100,000], are often sent up from Mogaung without a guard of any sort, robbery, or attempted robbery, is a thing unknown. They have the reputation of being the most superstitious of all the Kachin tribes. The remoteness of their country, the wildness of the scenery, the peculiar nature of the climate, healthful to them but deadly to strangers, the frequent earthquakes and violent atmospheric disturbances, seem to have inspired in them a more devout belief in the unseen powers and a readier disposition to consult them on the most trivial subjects. In important matters, such as the discovery or the opening of a jade mine, their action is entirely determined by superstitious considerations. In their search for stone they are guided by indications furnished by burning bamboos; when it is discovered, favourable omens are anxiously awaited before the discovery is announced to the Kachin community. A meeting is then convened by the chief Sawbwa, and again sacrifice and other methods of divination are resorted to in order to ascertain if the mine should be worked at once or be allowed to remain undisturbed for a period of years until the colour-such is the Kachin belief-is sufficiently matured. If the indications are favourable to the immediate opening of the mine, the land at and around the outcropping stone is marked out by ropes into small plots a few feet square, which are then apportioned among all the Kachins present. No Kachin belonging to the same family is refused a share, no matter how far away he may live.
The ground thus parcelled out, traders are invited to the mine, and after an elaborate ceremonial is held at the opening of each successive season. This year the sacrifices were on an unusually large scale, an abundant output being desired in order to meet expected orders on behalf of the Emperor of China, who is to be married shortly. On the occasion of the Emperor Tungchih’s marriage in 1872, it is said that a sum amounting to four lakhs of rupees was expended at Canton in buying jade for use at the ceremony, and a great impulse was thereby given to the jade trade in Burma.
The Kachins have always claimed the exclusive right of digging at the mines. They have, however, from time to time allowed Shans to assist them, and in the early days Chinese were permitted to work certain quarries temporarily abandoned by the Kachins. The Chinese, however, found the labour severe and the results unsatisfactory, and they have now for many years contented themselves with buying stone brought to the surface by Kachins.
The season for jade operations begins in November and lasts until May, when the unhealthiness of the climate [re: malaria] compels all traders to leave and the flooding of the mines suspends further operations on the part of the Kachins.
This flooding of the deepest and most productive quarries is the greatest difficulty with which the Kachins have to contend, and they have spent much labour and money in devising expedients, with indifferent success, to meet it. There were at the time of our visit elaborate bamboo structures over some of the largest quarries for the purpose of bailing out the water. When the floor of the pit can be kept dry a few hours-and this is as a rule only possible in February and March-immense fires are lighted at the base of the stone. A careful watch must then be kept, in a tremendous heat, in order to detect the first signs of splitting. When these occur the Kachins immediately attack the stone with pickaxes and hammers, or detach portions by hauling on leavers inserted in the crack. All this must be done when the stone is at its highest temperature, and the Kachins protect themselves from the fierce heat by fastening layers of plantain leaves round the exposed parts of their persons. The labour is described as severe in the extreme and such as only a Kachin would undertake for any consideration. The heat is insupportable, even for onlookers at the top of the mine, and the mortality among the actual workers is very considerable each season. The Chinese take a malicious pleasure in reminding the Kachins that in the early days when quarrying was easy the right of digging was jealously withheld from outsiders; and they assure them that under present conditions they need not be apprehensive of an infringement of their monopoly.
The stone is purchased at the mines by Chinese traders. All payments are made in rupees. An expert, or middleman, is nearly always employed to settle the price. These middlemen, who are without exception Burmese or Burmese-Shans, have from early times been indispensable to the transaction of business at the mines; they charge the purchaser five per cent on the purchase-money. The Kansi Sawbwa occasionally takes a similar commission for settling prices between the Kachins and Chinese; and he receives in addition very valuable presents from traders desirous of conciliating his goodwill and securing the first offer of stone he may be possessed of.
The jade having been purchased is carried by Shan and Kachin coolies to Namiakyaukseik (Nanyaseik), one long day’s journey from Tomo. The cost of carriage is at present from Rs.5 to Rs.6 a load of 25 viss. Stones too large to be carried by one man pay at a much higher rate, ten viss being reckoned as a load in such cases, and all the men engaged being paid at this rate. From Namiakyaukseik the stone proceeds by dug-outs down a small creek which flows into the Endaw river some three miles below Sakaw, and thence the river is followed to Mogaung. The transport of a load (25 viss) from Namiakyakseik to Mogaung probably costs about half-a-rupee.
Besides the cost of carriage the stone has at present to pay certain charges levied by Kachins at the mines and on the way down to Mogaung. In Burmese times it was the custom of any Kachin, the output of whose quarry was particularly good, to invite the chief Sawbwa to come and select a piece for himself. Beyond this the Sawbwa claimed no rights over the jade found in his country, except, of course, over such as occurred on his own private property. Now, however, since the withdrawal of the Burmese Mines Officer, the Kansi Sawbwa has assumed and enlarged some of the rights formerly exercised by that official. At present he imposes a tax of Rs.2-8-0 on every load of jade that leaves his country. This charge was levied three years ago, and being an innovation it formed the subject of a protest from the Chinese, on whose behalf the ex-Myook of Mogaung wrote to the Kansi Sawbwa asking him to remit it. The Sawbwa having read the letter cut it to pieces with his dà [knife] to show the contempt in which he held the remonstrance. The payment of this tax, however, is not rigidly enforced; traders who can plead poverty, or who are intimate with the Sawbwa or his agents, easily obtain reduction or exemption.
At Namiakyaukseik the stone is subjected to a further charge of Re.1 a load by the local Kachin Sawbwa, who also imposes a tax of Re.1 on every boat coming up the creek; and within the last few months a family of Kachins at Pentu (Puntu), between Kamein (Kamaing) and Mogaung, have barricaded the river at a narrow point where they take toll of passing boats.
Some jade is sent down the Uru and Chindwin rivers on rafts, and the amount would be larger were it not for rapids which render the navigation dangerous. At present little or no stone from the new mines [Tawmaw] follows this route, which is used only for such jade as can still be extracted from old mines in the lower valley of the Uru.
Some jade, again, is carried direct to China, evading duty at Mogaung. The proportion of the stone thus smuggled increased considerably last year in consequence of the unfortunate relations between the traders and the jade lessee. It probably amounted to one-fourth of the total output; in ordinary years it is perhaps one-sixth. But the export by this route can never be very large, because (1) the demand for uncut stone in Yunnan is now comparatively small, and (2) the direct overland transport from the mines to Momien costs, in ordinary cases, more than the transport to Momien via Bhamo plus the duty at Mogaung. The present rate of overland carriage from Talawgyi to Momien is Rs.40 for a load of 25 viss. The same amount of jade can be sent from Bhamo to Momien for less than Rs.10. It is certain, however, that some stone will always be smuggled in this way until there is a customs station at the mines. Small pieces of jade possessing high relative value will find this route convenient; and the several hundred Shans who visit Tomo each season and return to China direct will not be prevented from taking back with them as much as they can conveniently carry.
The Tomo quarries have now been worked for seven years and the stone is by no means exhausted, although the labour of extracting it from the deeper pits is barely repaid by the price realized. In the immediate neighbourhood of Tomo, the jade-supply is beginning to fail. Last year, out of forty-four excavations only three yielded good stone; and I now hear that during the last month thirty-seven new pits have been dug, the jade from which has in every instance proved valueless. This unsatisfactory result is attributed to the recent visit of the foreign troops. But it is confidently asserted that many new deposits of stone are known to the Kachins and will be disclosed in due season. The supply has not failed for upwards of a century, although no one particular mine has ever been profitably worked for longer than a few consecutive years.
The demand for jade is universal throughout China, and the price of the best stone shows no tendency to fall. Burma is practically the only source of the supply, and there seems no reason to think that the supply is likely to fall short of the demand. Considering the large area over which the jadestone has at one time or another been discovered, the impracticable nature of the country, covered for the most part with thick jungle, and the rough character of the prospecting, which consists merely in examining large and obvious outcropping stones, it is probable that the jade hitherto discovered bears a very small proportion to that still concealed. It is likely, therefore, that in the jade country our Government possess a source of revenue capable of considerable development. Putting out of sight the probability of future discoveries of jade, there is no doubt that the revenue derived from the present mines might be much improved if free access could be obtained to the country. The introduction of European appliances, which should supersede the present injurious method of working the quarries, would add considerable value of the output, a good part of which is now calcined by the action of the heat. And the smuggling of stone overland to China would at the same time be effectually prevented.
But a strong opposition from the Kachins must be expected to any innovation proposed by our government. The wealth and influence of the Kansi Sawbwa have greatly increased since the opening of the Tomo [Tawmaw] quarries. Even before the British annexation of Upper Burma he had begun to show some impatience at the yearly visits of the Burmese Mines official to his country; and he had ceased to escort that officer from Mogaung and to provide him with entertainment during his stay in the hills. For the last six years he has been entirely free from surveillance and control, and he has come, not unnaturally, to regard himself as an independent chieftain. It is improbable that he will admit a British garrison to his country without an attempt at resistance. It is true that he made no objection to the recent visit of the Mogaung column. But it was doubtful up to the last moment whether he would take a friendly or a hostile line, and it was well known that a number of the assembled Chiefs were in favour of resisting the progress of the column. Probably the assurance conveyed to the Sawbwa that no interference with his rights was intended, and that the column would return immediately after visiting the mines, had most weight in influencing his decision. However this may be, I am convinced that any future attempt made without the free previous consent of the Kachins to establish a Military or Police post at the mines or to exercise any interference with existing arrangements there, will need to be supported by the presence of a considerable force.
From Hertz, 1912
Burma Gazetteer: Myitkyina District
Following Warry’s account, Hertz goes on to describe the mines and their methods of working, ca.1912:
There are the following mines:
These mines are now being worked. Kansi La has representatives (Mawoks) at Tawmaw and Mamon; mines Nos. 4 to 7 are subordinate to Mamon, all dues and collections being paid to the Mamon Mawok. No. 2 is being worked in a desultory fashion and is said to be directly under Kansi La. The Mamon mines are subdivided and called by different names, such as Hintingyi, Hintingale, Maiche, etc., but, as they are all very close to Mamon, they have been included under Mamon.
This is the most important of the mines. It is worked exclusively by Kachins. The claim-holders are also Kachins and are all relations of Kansi La. There are over fifty claims being worked. The jade here is found in large blocks. The pits are deep and the work arduous, and only Kachins are equal to the task of baling out the mines and quarrying the stone. This says much for the Kachin as a labourer. These mines become flooded during the rains and the season’s work opens with the task of baling them out, which is done by a primitive contrivence, no pumps being used. The method is as follows:-A long horizontal pole, supported in the centre by two upright posts, is weighted at one end with stones and to the other is fastened a long cane rope with an empty kerosene tin or a bucket tied to the end of it. A platform is built over the mouth of the pit, and on this the balers sit and work the lifts by hauling on the cane rope. The water is emptied from the buckets into wooden troughs and thus carried away. The work of baling once started is carried on day and night, and considering the means used the mines are cleared in quick time. After all the water has been drawn off, the miners have to dig through thick layers of hard rock, before they come upon the jade; this takes two and in some cases three years of very hard work, but now that dynamite is being used the work is got through more quickly.
Collections and Dues: Manhumanta or ad valorem dues. This is not paid in money. When jadestone is sold, a portion of it (awarded by the elders of the mines) is given to Kansi La. It is impossible to say what income he derives from this source, as the manhumanta stone is taken charge of by the Mawok (his agent) on behalf of Kansi La, and only sold when a favourable price is offered. Since Kansi La’s death in 1907, manhumanta has been fixed at one-tenth ad valorem.
Export dues. The rates under this head are as follows:
These are collected by the Mawok’s men, who have kins or pickets, on the roads leading out of Tawmaw.
Tolls. Although these not sanctioned by Government, yet they are imposed on food-stuffs imported into the mines. The only regular cash rate is four annas on a mule-load of rice. Importers of other articles, such as dried fish, betel-nut, etc., pay in kind, giving some small present to the men at the kins. These tolls are used to remunerate the Mawok’s hangers-on.
House-Tax. This is collected from all residents in Tawmaw in the month of Tasaungmon. The rate is Rs.5 a house for hill-tribesmen and Rs.10 a household for those who are not members of a hill-tribe.
Gambling. In spite of Kansi La’s attempts in the past to deny that he countenanced gambling-dens, it is well known that they exist with his full permission. “La Saing, Kansi La’s nephew,” Mr. Barnard writes, “has this year leased out the right to keep an anzayon (dice-gambling den) to Law Ta for Rs.2,000, while permission to run a gamble known in Burmese as paukhnitse has been given to Maung Ya for Rs.600. Gambling is suspended when the Civil Officer visits Tawmaw, and instead of the evening gong whose beat usually invited persons to try their luck with the dice, and perhaps make their fortune, the village crier goes round and, in a voice pitched high enough for the Civil Officer to hear, warns the residents to close their shops early, take good care of their property and refrain from wandering about after dark without a light.”
The Ngobin Mines are situated between Lonkin and Tawmaw. There are only a couple of claims being worked.
At Mamon the Kachin is conspicuous by his absence. There is a fairly large Shan-Burman village consisting of fifty-four houses, which number increases considerably in the cold weather. Most of the inhabitants are from the Upper Chindwin. Jade is found in these mines in loose boulders at no great depth. Besides digging, the stone is extracted from the Uyu [Uru] river (which flows near Mamon) by diving. Some of the divers use diving-dresses, others go down without, and it is surprising how long they remain under water. Some of the diving-dresses are in such a deplorably bad state that it would not be safe to use the best of them.
Myaungs. These are big drains dug over a likely piece of ground. They are connected with a stream and the water coming down them carries away the earth, thereby saving a lot of digging labour. They are worked mostly during the rains.
Manhumanta. All stones valued at Rs.100 and over sold in the mines have to pay ten per cent on the selling price to Kansi La. This charge is not met by the seller. In all transactions there is a pwesa or broker, who is paid five per cent ad valorem by the purchaser. From what can be gathered Kansi La gets at least Rs.1,500 a year under this head from Mamon.
Export Dues. The rates are the same as in Tawmaw. A quantity of stone is also taken down the Uyu river on rafts. The rafts are of three kinds, viz.:
The last kind of raft is not much used. A charge of eight annas is made for each ticket issued in order to enable a load of jadestone to be removed from the mines, which sum the writer takes as his perquisite. The income from this source amounts to a very considerable figure during the season.
Tolls. No tolls on imports are collected. Kansi La, it is said, attempted to impose them, but the villagers threatened to leave, so he desisted.
Gambling. As at Tawmaw, gambling is carried on here on a large scale. The Mawok, Maung Nyi, bought the right to keep gambling-houses from Kansi La a few years ago for Rs.1,800. The accounts were checked by Mr.Barnard, who found that the Mawok made over Rs.4,000. As he only takes one pice (G anna) on every rupee staked, the gaming must be heavy. Kansi La’s income from these mines must amount to a considerable sum, for, according to information received, Kansi La sold the mines for one season to UKha, of Mandalay, recently for Rs.7,000. This included the right to collect fees on stones and to keep gambling-dens.
The Sabyi Mines include those known as Salaungka and Kalamaw. They are next in importance to Mamon, and both Kachins and Shan-Burmans work them. The Mawok is subordinate to the Mamon Mawok.
Manhumanta. The receipts under this head amount to over Rs.1,000 a year.
Export Duties. The majority of the stones are taken to Mamon and assessed there.
The Papyen mines are also subordinate to Mamon and include the following minor mines:
The Mawok of Papyen stated to Mr. Barnard that the manhumanta collected by him amounted to a little more than Rs.100.
Export Duties. These duties are said to be included in those of Mamon.
The Sabwi mines are subordinate to Mamon and include the Mawlakan mine.
Manhumanta. The money collected is handed over to the Mamon Mawok and no separate account is kept of it.
Tribute and Thathameda. Tribute is collected from Kachins in the Jade Mines Tract at the rate of Rs.5 a house and from non-Kachins at the rate of Rs.10 per household.
Kansi La died early in 1907 and was succeeded by his nephew, La Saing, the son of Kansi Nawng, the Lieutenant-Governor agreeing to recognize La Saing provisionally as Duwa on the understanding that his continuance as such depended on his ability to keep order and on his observance of the instructions given to him. La Saing died in 1908 and was succeeded by his son, Sinwa Nawng.
The following are Excerpts from a report written in 1907 by Mr. W.A. Hertz, Deputy Commissioner of Myitkyina, on the state of affairs in the Jade Mines Tract at the time of Kansi La’s death:-
“Kansi Nawng died a year after Captain Adamson’s visit in 1888, leaving a minor son named La Saing, and was succeeded by his younger brother, Kansi La, the man who has recently died. Kansi La was given a free hand in so far as the management of the mines went, and, to a certain extent, also in the government of the tract, and, being a man with a strong personality, he made himself very influential in a short time. Whatever may be said against him, that he was illiterate, conceited, and a savage, who was led by the nose by unprincipled Burman and Shan hangers-on, it must be admitted that order was maintained in the territory under his control. Crime was perhaps burked and acts of injustice sometimes committed, but he usually made up for the latter by giving the injured persons employment, or by putting them in the way of making money. There were, consequently, no complaints against him.”
“The rights in the mines of the Kansi family”. The evidence as to what rights the Kansi family had in Burmese times is very conflicting. It is certain, however, that they had rights of some sort, and that, if the other headmen of the tract also had rights, they were gradually deprived of them, until laterly Kansi La came to be regarded as the owner of all the jadestone found at Tawmaw.
“Revenue derived from the Mines by Kansi La”. The following dues and tolls were levied at the time of Kansi La’s death:-
ii. A mule-load of jadestone-Rs.4-8-0.
iii. Coolie-load of jadestone-Rs.1-8-0
iv. A raft of single thickness (tatat paung) laden with jadestone-Rs.6-0-0.
v. A raft of double thickness (hnitat paung) laden with jadestone-Rs.6-0-0.
vi. A kadon raft (made of bundles of bamboos) laden with jadestone-Rs.8 to Rs.30 (according to the carrying capacity of the raft)
“The export tolls are tacitly recognized by Government although the rates have not been fixed, but the import tolls are unauthorized.”
“Until five or six years ago, the export tolls at Tawmaw and Mamon were the same as those at the Hweka mines, namely, Re.1 per mule-load of jadestone and eight annas per coolie-load, and no dues were levied on imports. The rates were raised by Kansi La. Major Townsend’s estimate of the amount of kyaukkun realized at Tawmaw in 1903 was Rs.1,090, but as the Shan Mawok pays the Duwa a sum of Rs.1,000 yearly for the privilege of collecting this revenue, the estimate must fall considerably short of the mark. I have now gone carefully through the Mawok’s books for the current year, and have obtained the following figures, which I believe represent fairly accurately the actual state of affairs:
|On Coolies||On Mules|
|In Tabaung 1268 B.E.||48||0||0||203||0||0|
|In Tagu 1268 B.E. up to the middle of Kason 1263 B.E.||448||0||0|
|Estimate for the remaining half of Kason, when the season will end.||448||0||0||750||8||0|
|Grang Total…||Rs. 2,675-0-0|
I have not been able to obtain the figures for last year as the books are incomplete. Ko Yin Det, the licensee for the collection of royalty on jadestones, estimates the receipts on account of kyaukkun in the Tawmaw mines at Rs.4,000 and, in support of his estimate, produces a list that he has prepared from information furnished by jadestone traders of the number of mule and coolie-loads of jadestone that have left Tawmaw up to date. According to his list, the number of mules laden with jadestone that have left Tawmaw is 573 and of coolies 620, making a gross revenue of Rs.3,508-8-0, or, for the whole season, of over Rs.4,500. In order to explain the difference between his figures and the Mawok’s he says that the latter is swindled by his clerk and followers, by whom the tolls are collected. This I fancy is true, but, on the other hand, Ko Yin Det and the traders from whom he got his information, are anxious to secure a reduction of the tolls, and it is to their interest to make out as big a bill as possible. Perhaps the mean between the two figures may be nearer the truth than the figures obtained from the Mawok’s books. This would make the total revenue Rs.3,587-8-0 divided (in round figures) as follows:-
800 Colies 1,200 Rs.
531 Mules 2,390 Rs.
Total: 3,950 Rs.
The Tawmak Mawok maintains a staff of six men during the working months, and of two men in the rains, to police the mines and collect tolls; and he says that the import tolls suffice for the up-keep of this staff. I estimate that these men cost him from Rs.700 to Rs.800 a year. It will be seen, therefore, that the Shan Mawok of Tawmaw makes quite a good thing out of his appointment, and that it is possible to reduce the tolls so that they may approximate somewhat to the rates sanctioned by Government for the Hweka mines, though I am afraid that it will be impossible to reduce them to the same level because there the Duwa lives at the mines and is his own Mawok, while here it will be difficult to compel Kansi’s successor to live at Tawmaw.
“Management of the Mines”. The mines are managed by Kansi’s agents, who are called Mawoks. There are two Mawoks at Tawmaw, a Kachin and a Shan, the latter of whom collects all the export and import dues, while Kansi La’s nephew, La Saing, takes the revenue derived from the gambling-dens. There is also a Mawok at Mamon, who receives and keeps all the money collected there, except the gambling-fees which are sent to Kansi La. The Mawok of Mamon, Maung Nyi, is said to be a wealthy man. Kansi La never went to Mamon. Each of the Shan Mawoks maintains at his own expense a staff of five or six peons to help him to keep order at the mines and to collect tolls.
“The mines were visited by Mr. Twomey, the Commissioner of the Mandalay Division, in April 1907, and on his recommendation the Local Government issued the following rules for the levying of tolls and dues by the headman of the Jade Mines Tract:-
The Hweka Jade Mines are situated in the hills twelve mines [miles?] south of Mamon and as in the latter place, the jadestone is found in boulders. Major Townsend, writing of these mines in 1903, says:- ‘Kansi La has nothing whatever to do with these mines. He is, however, connected with the Mabu-Sainglaing Marips, who own them. These mines were of little importance until 1897-98, when the question of appointing a headman arose. Mabu Sao Awn was appointed temporarily, pending the coming of age of his cousin, Saing Sao Awn. The latter has been permitted to take over the duties and emoluments this year. These mines have increased in importance year by year and will probably shortly rival Mamon. They are situated on the slope of a steep hill and are cut into two deep, broad terraces. As the excavations continue and the earth is thrown up around them, it is probable that the mines will take the shape of deep wells as at Tawmaw. At present the limits of the claims are marked by long canes suspended overhead. There are now some sixty claims allotted by the headman who does not reserve the mines for his own family and friends as Kansi does at Tawmaw. Here, as at Tawmaw, the work is too hard for any but Kachins. The purchasers of the jadestone are Shans from the Upper Chindwin or from Mogaung. It is mostly taken via Kamaing to Mogaung, though the jade licensee has now complained that it is being smuggled direct to the railway at Taungni and Hopin, thus avoiding payment of royalty.’
“Tribute”. In addition to the ordinary tribute, the Mawok pays Rs.100 per annum to Government. Kachin tribute and thathameda are assessed and collected by the Subdivisional Officer, Mogaung (now Kamaing), in the ordinary way.”
W.A. Hertz, 1912,
Burma Gazetteer: Myitkyina District.
From the time of Warry and Hertz onwards, a number of British and other Europeans gave first-hand accounts of the mines. These included Noetling (1892-1893), Bleeck (1907-1908), and Chhibber (1934). Chhibber’s study was extensive, and remains to this day the most detailed look at the mines in print. Space does not permit its full reprinting here, but, suffice to say, it is the classic work on the subject. The section below contains his comments on the jadeite trade:
Every piece of jadeite found has to be valued and the owner has to pay a commission of 5 per cent. to the valuation committee at the jade mines. As a rule the valuations in the mines are very low. If the financier elects to keep the stone (which he generally does), he has to pay half of the value of the stone to the coolies or workmen after paying the Mahumanta tax of 10 per cent. to the Duwa in whose jurisdiction the stone is found, if it is valued at Rs.100/- or more.
It is noteworthy that in sales and valuations prices are not mentioned openly, but are indicated by a conventional system of finger pressures under cover of a handkerchief.
The stone is then taken away to Mogaung, either by coolies or on mules, after paying the necessary local tolls. If a boulder is very heavy then the coolie transport from the mines to Nanyaseik is very costly. For instance, about fifty coolies or more have to be engaged to transport a boulder weighing about a ton; these proceed by very short stages and in all it may cost about Rs.1,000/-. Beyond Nanyaseik it may be taken by bullock carts to Mogaung, or it may be sent by river on bamboo rafts from Kamaing.
The stone can only be taken out of Mogaung after paying an ad valorem royalty of 33 per cent. to the Government Jade License.
Much dealing in jade goes on in the mines and at Mogaung amongst Burmese, Chinese and other traders; but it is entirely speculation, because usually the stones are not cut until after the Government royalty has been paid on them, and therefore their real value is merely guess-work. I may quote here from a manuscript note by Major F.L. Roberts, formerly Deputy Commissioner, Myitkyina. “From the time jade is won in the Jade Mines area until it leaves Mogaung in the rough for cutting there is much that is underhand, tortuous and complicated, and much unprofitable antagonism. In my opinion the whole business requires cleansing, straightening and the light of day thrown upon it.”
Shipping. Boulders of jadeite are wrapped in gunny bags, tied with hemp rope and then shipped from Rangoon, in a Chinese boat to Hong Kong, Canton, Shanghai, etc. A considerable quantity of stone is smuggled across the border, in addition to the small amount officially carried over by mules, which return from Burma to Yunnan and China with the advent of the rainy season.
Buyers of Jadeite. No definite statistics regarding the purchasers of jadeite are available. However an aged, experienced dealer informed me that only about 25 per cent. of the jadeite is consumed in Burma. The remaining 75 per cent. is sent to China and Japan, and of this a small percentage eventually finds its way to America and Europe. The Chinese believe that the wearing of jade prevents “evil eye,” disease, or in other words acts as a charm. Jadeite jewellery finds great favour with the Chinese and Japanese ladies.
Centres of Jadeite trade. A large number of the Chinese jade merchants make their purchases at Mogaung, but a fair number of Chinese merchants come up to the jade mines and are to be seen buying the mineral at Hpakan, Hwehka and other mining centres. Mandalay being the centre of cutting, commands the largest market for jade jewellery.
Varieties of Jadeite. The local merchants recognise a number of varieties, depending upon their colour, translucency and texture.
Jade-cutting Industry The methods employed in the cutting of jadeite and described below are really Chinese, and artistic carving is still mostly done in China. Surface carving and bead-making can be done in Mandalay.
Abrasives. Two kinds of abrasives are used in the cutting of jadeite. For big boulders coarse carborundum is employed, while the finer grade is used in disc-cutting described below. Crushed gem sand from Mogok is also employed in grinding and polishing.
About 20 years ago a basket of the gem sand from Mogok (sand weighing about 200lb.) could be bought for a rupee (one shilling and six pence); but at present the price varies from Rs.7/- to 15/- depending upon the usual question of supply and demand. Before the sand is crushed into grinding powder, the gems of better quality are picked out to be used as jewels in watches. Most are exported to Europe, but some are employed locally in the manufacture of cheap jewellery.
Local Preparation of Abrasives. The pounding and pulverising of the sand is effected by a simple contrivance. A heavy weight is tied by means of a string strung to a bow fastened on to the ceiling of the house. Generally this task is entrusted to girls, who are paid according to the weight of sand they crush. These wages vary in direct proportion to the degree of fineness required.
The powder thus prepared is used in cutting and grinding; but it is largely made into flat slabs by mixing it with a kind of gum imported from China. These abrasive slabs are mounted on flat wooden rectangular plates, there being 15 or 16 kinds of these tablets depending upon the grade of the powder used.
The first stage in the cutting of jadeite is the sawing of the boulders with big, heavy bamboo bows. The length of the saw is variable and is about two feet high at the centre. The cutting is done with steel wire; generally two of three wires are plied together. The boulder rests on a wooden frame and the saw is worked by two men sitting at either end. On one side there is a small basin containing coarse carborundum powder and water, and during cutting this moist paste is continuously poured on to the boulder by means of a long rod either by one of the workmen or by a small apprentice boy.
Disc-cutting. Smaller pieces of jade are cut by means of a sharp-edged disc about 14 inches in diameter and made of bronze. This is fitted on to a wooden axle worked by means of a leather strap tied on to two wooden legs operated by the cutter. Below the disc is kept a basin containing fine carborundum and water which are constantly replenished on to the jadeite piece which is being cut. The disc rotates at a high speed and its sharp edge armed with carborundum powder effects the cutting. The disc is re-sharpened by means of a small brick made of gem sand. Sometimes before a boulder of jade is sold, if it is promising, certain portions are polished to expose clearly to view the more valuable parts of the stone. Generally a small rectangular strip is ground and polished. This grinding is done by means of an emery disc, and then the exposed portions are polished with fine emery discs. The machinery employed in this case is the same as is used for disc-cutting, but the cutting disc is replaced by thick emery discs.
Shaping and Polishing. The third stage consists in mounting the small pieces of jade on to bamboo sticks by means of sealing wax. By skilful grinding on the abrasive tablets of different grades the desired shape is imparted to rough pieces. In this way buttons, bars for brooches, small pieces for making bracelets, and beads for necklaces are made. The selection of colour and matching of beads is entrusted to girls. The cut articles are polished on slabs of very fine-textured stone, brass, leather, etc.
Final Polishing. The final polish to the jadeite jewellery is given by rubbing the articles on a dry bamboo with water. Finally the finished article is boiled for about 15 minutes in a solution made up as follows:
|Soda (Sapyagyan)||–||1 part|
The above solution is boiled for fifteen minutes and then cooled and decanted. When the stone has undergone this treatment, it is cleaned with cloth and is ready for sale.
Boring of holes. The boring of holes in necklace beads, buttons, cuff-links, etc., is a speciality and is generally done by skilled artisans. The bead or any article in which a hole is to be bored is fixed in a heavy wooden stage or on to a block of wood by means of sealing wax and the hole is bored by means of an Archimedean drill, the steel needle of which is tipped with a high class Brazilian diamond point. The drill is worked by means of a leather bow. On a small scale a sharp-pointed steel rod and carborundum powder serve the above purpose.
Making of Bangles. The making of Jade bangles, like carving, is a speciality which involves considerable skill and risk and it is mostly done in China. However, a little is done in Mandalay as well.
The making of a jade bangle simply consists in first scooping out a cylinder of jade. This is done by means of a steel cylinder and carborundum. The same process is repeated so that a small hollow cylinder, which represents a crude bangle, is obtained. Then the edges are ground and the bangle is polished. This is a risky operation and a bangle may give way in the final stages on account of an undetected flaw in the stone.
Carving. The utmost care has to be exercised in carving jade. The Chinese workmen, having determined from the natural shape of the block, and from its visible and probable flaws, into what object he will carve it, fixes it on a lathe and gives it the general outline. The carving machine is a kind of lathe almost identical with the one used for disc-cutting. In this case, however, the small steel discs vary from the size of a rupee to that of a pice. Various types of discs are employed for coarse and fine carving, using very fine carborundum powder for this purpose. Work is started with the biggest disc and the artisan gradually changes on to the finer ones. The interior is then hollowed out first by drilling, with diamond-pointed needles, innumerable little holes all over the surface which is to be broken away. When this is completely honeycombed the partitions are broken down by tapping sharply with a hammer. Too hard a tap may shatter the half-finished object along some hidden flaw. The final polish to the carved article is given by a leather disc. This work, even in Mandalay, is almost entirely done by skilled Chinamen whose wages vary from Rs.3H/- to Rs.10/- depending on the amount of work done.
It is recognised that the harder the stone the more difficult the cutting, and the more brilliant the polish it is capable of acquiring. So great is the difficulty of carving jade than an elaborate piece may represent a lifetime’s labour. In Kienlung’s ateliers in the Summer Palace at Peking the workmen succeeded one another without interruption day and night. Even then many years were occupied in completing a single piece.
Places where cutting is done in Burma.-The bulk of the cutting is done in Mandalay, but some is done in Mogaung and a little, almost negligible amount, in the jade mines, e.g. at Hpakan, Hwehka, etc.
Places where cutting is done in China.-It appears that jade cutting and carving is a very extensive industry in China, the most important centres being Canton, Shanghai and Peking, though some cutting is done in Hong Kong also. A big cutting industry is centred at Teng Yueh in Yunnan; so much so that every street in Teng Yueh has its lapidary’s shop and lathe.
H.L. Chhibber, 1934
Mineral Resources of Burma
Jade goes to war Up until World War II, the region remained a backwater, and few Europeans ventured to the mines and wrote about them. This all changed with the Japanese invasion. The following is an interesting jade war story from a Chinese-American working on General Stillwell’s staff:
Jade! Burma used to provide the women of this world with some of its most precious stones. The ruby mines of Burma near Mandalay were world famous, and you can bet that the British didn’t want the American GIs or the Chinese Pings anywhere near them. When the boundaries were drawn between General Slim’s XIV British Army and General Stilwell’s combat forces of the NCAC and the Chinese Army in India, Admiral Mountbatten made certain that all the rubies were in Slim’s area!
Jade, on the other hand, was to be found in north Burma in large quantities. The area adjacent to the trace of the Stillwell Road and the upper reaches of the Hukawng Valley from the India-Burma border along the Wantuk Bum down to the Ahawk Hka had a number of active mines still operating. Chinese troops of the 22nd and 38th divisions were not long in discovering this fact. Nor did it take them long to find out that local mine superintendents were not loath to part with their precious wares in return for promises of protection for themselves, their workers, and their property. The owners of the mines fled when the Japanese came in, so the mine supervisors figured they were in charge. It didn’t take long either for some of our more enterprising American officers serving as advisors (liaison) with Chinese units to see the possibilities for making a quick fortune.
An officer came into my tent at Shaduzup one afternoon in late May 1944. He looked around to make certain we were alone. “Charlie,” he said in almost a stage whisper, “I’ve got something to show you.” He was carrying an olive-drab rubberized ration bag about the size of a small grocery sack. He untied the string, turned it upside down, and onto my desk fell chunks of what appeared to be rough gray stones. There were about ten of them ranging in size from a golf ball to a tennis ball and about fifty others, rough cut but in a myriad of colors-green, oxblood, black, and red-ranging in size from a large marble to a Ping-Pong ball. “Know what these are?” asked the officer. I admitted that I did not. Taking a GI trench knife from his belt, he proceeded to gouge into one of the rough gray stones. As the outer crust peeled away the stone turned a beautiful dark green. “Jade, Charlie,” he said. “All of these are jade, the reds, the blacks, all of ’em.” He had convinced one of the mine supervisors that he controlled the Chinese troops in the area and could assure full protection to the supervisor, his mine, and his workers. The officer seemed proud of what he had done although he knew that I knew that he couldn’t actually control any of the Chinese and that he couldn’t very well protect anyone either.
“You’re staff, Charlie,” he said. “You’ve got to have a way to get this back to the states. What’ll you give me for the lot.” I didn’t want to get involved in this nefarious business, but neither did I wish to offend the officer or make him my enemy. I had priced, polished and finished jade in Ledo and in New Delhi. Even a rough calculation by weight told me that this sackful must be worth at least $10,000. “I’d sure like to help you,” I said. “How about $1,000?”
“Come on, Charlie,” he answered. “It’s got to be worth at least $5,000.” I explained that even if I agreed with him, which I did not, I didn’t have that much money on hand. In fact, I only had $800 and would have to borrow the rest.
The officer shrugged his shoulders, put his rocks back in the sack, and left. I never did learn what he did with the jade, but if he eventually got it back to the states and hung onto it, it would be worth about $500,000 today. I guess I just wasn’t cut out for a life of crime-any kind of crime. If I had been I could have been an opium king or a jade smuggler. Instead, I’m a retired army officer. As it was, when I left Burma and the CBI for the last time, I took with me a single piece of jade purchased in New Delhi for 300 rupees ($100.00).
My wife still has it. Won-Loy Chan, 1986, Burma: The Untold Story
After the war, Martin Ehrman (Smith & Smith, 1994), Meen (1962) and Gubelin (1964-1978) visited the mines and wrote about them. Their reports are excellent, and provide much local color, but since they are contained in journals which are commonly available, I will not reproduce them here.
In 1962, the Ne Win-led military coup slammed the door on this part of the globe. Only recently has it reopened. The present author has undertaken two visits to the mines over the past year (Hughes, 1996-1997). Amazingly, little has changed from that reported by these early visitors. Jade continues to be mined and worked by extremely primitive methods, with the only sop to the modern age being electricity, motorized vehicles, backhoes and dynamite. Some things never change.
The following is a list of the most important eye-witness (or near eye-witness) accounts of Burma’s jade mines in the Roman alphabet. Many of these are referred to, or quoted in the above text. References followed by RWHL indicate that I have originals or copies in my personal library. Those followed by an asterisk are of particular quality.