Tuesday, September 21, 2010

chinese exchange-value follies....,

NYTimes | These days, Khotan is mad about jade, or at least the riches it has brought to a city whose previous bout of prosperity occurred a few thousand years ago, when traders from ancient Rome and Constantinople were making their way toward Xi’an, then the capital of the Chinese empire and the eastern terminus of the Silk Road.

Ounce for ounce, the finest jade has become more valuable than gold, with the most prized nuggets of “mutton fat” jade — so-named for its marbled white consistency — fetching $3,000 an ounce, a tenfold increase from a decade ago.

The jade boom, which appears to have reached a frenzy in the past year or two, has been fueled by the Chinese, whose new wealth and a 5,000-year affinity for the stone has turned Khotan cotton farmers into jade tycoons.

“The love of jade is in our blood, and now that people have money, everyone wants a piece around their neck or in their home,” Zhang Xiankuo, a Chinese salesman, said as he opened a safe to show off his company’s most expensive carved items, among them a pair of kissing swans that retails for $150,000 and a contemporary rendition of a Tang dynasty beauty, her breasts impertinently exposed, that can be purchased for $80,000.

In a region convulsed by ethnic strife, it is notable that the manna appears to have enriched both Khotan’s native Uighurs, Turkic-speaking adherents of Islam, and the more recently arrived Han Chinese, who are often viewed unlovingly as rapacious colonizers.

The Uighurs have largely made their fortune harvesting jade from the river and selling it to Chinese middlemen. Because devout Muslims are proscribed from dealing in certain representational images, the Han have come to monopolize the carving and sale of Buddhist figurines, stalking tigers and the miniature cabbages that are popular among Chinese consumers.

“Jade has no meaning for our culture, but we are thankful to Allah that the Chinese go crazy for it,” said Yacen Ahmat, a Uighur who spends seven days a week working the crowds at Khotan’s jade bazaar, a frenetic marketplace dominated by prospectors trying to unload their catch on savvy wholesalers — or hapless tourists who often return home with overpriced rocks.