China Environmental News Digest

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Jade rush 'damages Chinese river'

 BBC News

Jade cutter in China
As resources dwindle the price of Hotan jade has soared
Jade prospectors are putting one of China's rivers in peril and could soon exhaust supplies of the precious stone.

About 200,000 people are sifting the Yurungkax river in Xianjiang for Hotan jade - which costs up to $120 (£63) a gramme - state media reports have said.

As well as the prospectors, around 2,000 mechanical diggers are sifting through the river bed for the gemstone.

Experts say the search is damaging the river bed and its biological system leading to serious soil erosion.

"The river bed, which is hundreds of millions of years old, is undergoing unprecedented degradation," said Wang Shiqi, a gemstones expert at Beijing University.

"If the mass hunting continues like this, the river's Hotan jade resources will disappear in five to six years," he added.

Dwindling supplies

The price of Hotan jade has surged in recent years as a result of a sharp drop in output.

The stone is deemed to be the highest quality because of its texture and colour - said to be "as white as sheep fat". Most of the seals of Chinese emperors were made of Hotan jade.

Most prospectors rush to the river in north western China during the summer, before it freezes over in the autumn.

In 2004, jade hunters using heavy equipment wrecked the ruins of an ancient civilisation dating back as far as the Han Dynasty, which began in 206 BC on the west bank of the Yurungkax river.

Despite the region's water conservation authorities admitting that the jade rush has damaged the environment, local authorities have yet to put any measures in place to limit activity at the river.

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