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Jade sales enter the era of livestreaming

By Xu Junqian | China Daily | Updated: 2019-06-04 07:36

Wang Qing, a Taobao dealer, displays his wares during a livestream auction in Ruili. XU JUNQIAN/CHINA DAILY

'Gambling on rocks'

Raw jade, which is mined in mountainous areas, is typically found in boulders that look like any other rocks. Instead of the raw jade being processed into accessories, some is put aside and sold directly to collectors as investment pieces.

The sales process for raw jade is also different to that for other jewelry. By giving the surface a little scrape-known in the trade as "opening the window"-both sellers and buyers assess the value of the stone before agreeing on a price.

Xiong Jianghong, deputy director of the Jade Association of Ruili, one of China's largest distribution centers for the ornamental mineral, said, "It's like wrapping a piece of black fabric over a painting and then offering you a peek of it through a hole in the cloth.

"The problem is that when most people see a patch of bright yellow, they fantasize that it is Vincent Van Gogh's Sunflowers. But in reality, in nine out of 10 cases it is not Sunflowers but just a drawing by a kindergarten kid featuring a large sun."

Known as dushi, which in Chinese means "gambling on rocks", it is considered the most risky but lucrative business among all jewelry deals.

There is a variety of local slang to describe the uncertainty and difficulty of dushi. According to one saying, "With one scrape you are a billionaire, and with another you are a beggar."

When asked about the origins of the practice, many in the business cite the story of a man called Bian He. He lost both his legs before finally proving that the stone he presented to two emperors was a piece of rare jade. Unwilling to cut open the stone completely as it would damage the jade inside, Bian, who lived during the Spring and Autumn period (770 BC to 476 BC), irritated the emperors, who thought he was lying. They ordered his legs to be cut off as punishment.

There is still no technology capable of penetrating the stone, known as "the skin", to locate the jade and to judge its quality without breaking the stone apart.

Raw jade, the finest of which can cost as much as an apartment in downtown Beijing or Shanghai, has a unique value for investors. In addition to jewelry, it can be used to make vases, seals and even pillows.

One of the best-known pieces of jade in China is a half-green, half-white sculpture in the shape of a Chinese cabbage. The piece, which is in the Palace Museum in Taipei, is considered a national treasure signifying the craftsmanship involved in jade carving.

Xiong, who has been in the industry for more than 20 years, said: "The love for jade is in the blood of every Chinese. If you are Chinese, you will find your love for it and be ready to pay for it eventually."

Size, weight or color factor little when it comes to the price paid for jade.

Unlike diamonds or gold, there are no strict standards to calculate the price. Buyers' expectations, the political situation in Myanmar, and the Chinese stock market can all affect the price. As a result, raw jade collectors have long remained a rather exclusive community-mainly the preserve of experienced, older men.

In 2014, however, the industry was affected by the anti-corruption campaign introduced by the central government, forbidding any form of gift-giving or spending with public money.

A report on the jewelry industry that year said jade sales totaled about 15 billion yuan, a fall of 25 percent from 2013.

Since then, the price of jade has fallen at a double-digit rate annually, according to the Jade Association of Ruili.

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