The jade of Xinjiang stands out among the varieties produced in China and the jade of Hotan in particular has an excellent reputa- tion. According to the Qing Illustrated Records of Xinjiang, Hotan jade comes in a variety of colors, dark purple, yellow, blue-green,
green, black and white. The white jade of Hotan is renowned both within China and abroad. In ancient times, too, a Western Han writer praised it as "perfection," and the imperial tribute of jade sent from Xinjiang was often selected from the highest quality white jade.
It was also known as "muttonfat jade" in the past because of its fine smooth texture, and even, pure color. References to Hotan jade abound in historical records, dating as far back as 2,000 years or more. Although the earliest records may
not be entirely reliable, we can infer from them that even at that time people were aware that the region of the Kunlun Mountains was rich in jade. Later periods of history provide many more
verifiable mentions of Hotan jade. A history of the Tang Dynasty,
the Jiu Tang Shu, compiled during the Later Jin between 940 and 945, says of the ancient state of Yutian (now Hotan): "It produces beautiful jade and, in the sixth year of the reign of Emperor Taizong (632), sent envoys with gifts of jade in response to a special imperial edict." More information is given in the Ming Shi, a history of the Ming Dynasty compiled in the early Qing Dynasty, which reports: "East of Yutian there is the White ,Jade River, in the west flows the Green Jade River, and further westwards one comes to the Black Jade River. All three have their sources in the Kunlun Mountains. At night, the natives, seeing the moonlight shimmering on the water, leap into the rivers to capture it, thinking it must be beautiful jade."
These three rivers are nowadays known as the Yurungkax River, the Hotan River and the Karakax River respectively. In addition, a vivid
and comprehensive survey can be found in an agricultural and handicraft handbook, dating from the end of the Ming Dynasty, which sets out the history, distinctive features, methods of extraction and so on of Hotan jade. The accuracy of the information given in these ancient books when checked against the jade produced in
Hotan today is quite astonishing.
The major deposits of Hotan jade are tucked away deep within the lofty Kunlun and Karakorum mountain ranges, and largely inaccessible to people in the past. Instead the ancients had to seek the precious stone at the foot of the mountains and in the adjacent plains. Every summer torrents of water would thunder clown from
the mountains, carrying lumps of rough jade along with it. The people living alongside the rivers would wait until August or September when the waters abated, and then sprt out the jade from the pebbles dredged up from the river. During the Qing Dynasty, when the search for jade was at its height, a group of merchants employed a local labor force to go into the Kunlun Mountains and dig for jade. By the end of the Republican period (1912-1949), several mine shafts had already been sunk in the jade producing area deep within
the' mountains of Yutian County from which the traders were reaping huge profits, and Xinjiang's first generation of jade miners had appeared.
Historically, most of the jade from Xinjiang was sent as tribute to the imperial court or entered China through trade. The Wu Dai Shi or History of the Five Dynasties (907-960) notes that the King of Yutian sent the military-governor "a thousand cattles of iade, as well as jade seals and exorcising tokens" in addition to other gifts as
tribute for the Later Jin emperor Shi Jingtang (937-942). Precious jade continued to be sent as imperial tribute yearly during the reign
of the Song emperor Huizong (1101-1119), and sometimes even twice a year, until it reached its highest level during the Qing Dynasty. During the reign of the Emperor Jiaqing (1796-1821),
Hotan sent three large lumps of jade, weighing 6,000, 8,000 and 10,000 catties respectively (a catty is about half a kilogram). But
because of the precariousness of the Qing government at that time, shipment was halted en route and the massive jade lumps were left
lying at Ushtala. The huge jade carvirJg now kept in Beijing's Palace Museum was carved from a 10,000-catty lump of greenish-white Hotan iade sent as a gift to the Qing emperor Qianlong. Trade in jade between China and Xinjiang is also mentioned many times in historical records.
After 1949, the state paid great attention to exploiting Xinjiang's jade resources, and the first state-owned jade mine was set up in
Yutian County in 1957. In the 1970s it was joined by the Qarqan White Jade Mine and the Manas Green Jade Mine, which, using mechanized extraction methods and up-to-date transport equipment, mine large amounts of jade in the wild and inaccessible mountains. The government also established a special jade purchasing station to buy jade dredged or mined by the local people at a high price. Hotan alone has increased its yearly jade output by over tenfold since Liberation, and nowadays more than fifty jade-carving factories use jade from Xinjiang.
In Xinjiang jade has been carved since ancient times. For a long time before 1949, the jade-carving craftworkers of Hotan used ordinary red sand and a foot-operated grinding machine to carve and polish simple jade articles and ornaments. After Liberation, light industry departments organized itinerant craffworkers and set up a jade carvers co-operative in Hotan, the first of its kind in'Xinjiang.
In the early 1960s, the first jade-carving factory was started in Urumqi, producing all kinds of jade articles. Ornamental jade pieces,
including jewellery, are greatly appreciated by Chinese and foreign visitors to Xinjiang alike, and there are never enough jade carvings
to meet the demand. From this it appears that the craft of jade carving in Xinjiang has bright prospects.