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A Look At 16 years of Burma Jade Mines

by Fred Ward
(With new photographs of the mines supplied by Bill Larson, Pala International)


Fred Ward at Burma's famed Hpakangyi jade mine in 2001. Behind him are most of the 10,000 day laborers who hand-carry the debris so pickers can get out the new jade.


This amazing scene in 2001 shows most of the 10,000 day laborers who walk down with empty baskets and trudge upward carrying two baskets of dirt. In 2000 time they were paid about 2-3 cents a trip. The importance of this photo is to note the depth these workers have reached and the number of workers employed at the world's largest jade mine. Most of the world's quality jadeite came from this gigantic hole.


The amazing thing is that the mine was profitable at all. But labor was cheap then and a pliable labor force was always available. Even the company employees relied on primitive tools. To see if a just-overturned stone might be jadeite, the employee would hit it with steel rod. If it chimed, it was a "keeper." And this is how jadeite was mined from the 1700s until 2001.


Burma's Pharkantgyi Hmaw (jade mine)

And then everything began to change. Different owners and dealers wanted more access to jadeite sites and even the small wages paid seemed too much for the managers. So thousands of "coolies" were out and heavy equipment was in. There are people on the crest, but mainly this is a strip-mining site for jade.


Burma's Nump Hmaw (jade mine) in 2000

The Burmese pattern has now spread through the jade areas. If there is a "find," no matter how small, the tendency is to strip-mine it quickly to see how much jade can be extracted.


Burma's Pharkant Gyi Hmaw (jade mine)

This jade mine seems to be an exception. It is patterned after the huge Hpakangyi mine (above) just outside the northern Burmese city of Hpakan and in 2000 it was still using huge numbers of people to carry out the debris.


Burma's Mawmaune Bum (jade mine)

Look at this mine. There are almost no people to be seen. And it too has been strip-mined to extract every piece of jade. Whole mountains were taken down in the process and this huge scar on the landscape was left as it was.


Burma's Metlinchaung Hmaw (jade mine)

Here is another example of jade mining patterns in Burma. Again, the area was basically strip-mined and left. Nothing will grow on the rocks for a very long time. But the growing mining pattern has become clear. When prospectors find anything promising, large equipment is brought in, housing is built, and the huge mechanical shovels are brought in to extract tons of rocks, dirt, (and hopefully jade). Once the site plays out, the workers move on.


Burma's Metlin Chaung Hmaw (jade mine)

Some sites are beautiful despite the digging. This is a beautiful area, with homes on the crest and lovely green mountains everywhere. The jade area was on the lower right while it was in operation. Like all the rest of the mines, the area is worked only as long as jade is found. Once it plays out or requires more depth than is economical, the companies and miners move on.


Burma's Sha Yaw Hka Hmaw (jade mine) in 2004

This is an interesting site because it has so many homes in areas that you would normally expect jade mining. Homes are built in areas where there is no jade, or built on tailings after the jade has been mined. This area was once filled with plants and trees and is now pretty much a sand and rock box.


Burma's Kyaukkyi Kone Hmaw (jade mine) in 2006

Here is one of Burma's newest jade mines. The company and miners have actually stripped a mountain. The intent is to mine the entire site, systematically stripping layer after layer, checking for jade, and pushing the debris rocks over the edges. This rapid increase in jade mining in Burma has transformed the landscape.

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Reader Comments (8)

Fred, Thank you for this interesting addendum to the Adrian Levy/Cathy Scott-Clark book. One might wonder under which tailings pile are buried the thousands of day laborers now that they've be replaced by earth movers.
It is difficult for myself to detach Burmese Jadeite from the oppresive goverment of Myamar and the gluttony of the Chinese market which fuels this eviseration of the Earth.
While I realized going in the Gem Game was not an altruistic one and I am no innocent, I believe for now I will stick with Jades from sources other than contemporary Burma.

February 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTom Finneran
Since the subject of government oppression has come up, and we are pointing fingers, let's take a look at our own house.

In the past four years the US (with British and Aussie assistance) has invaded two countries and in Iraq alone killed anywhere from 50,000 to 250,000 people, depending on which numbers you want to believe. At the same time, we are now involved in a covert destablization program in Iran and it probably won't be long until Hugo Chavez' plane develops engine trouble.

The US is the world's biggest arms supplier and not only does the US spend more on the military per year than any other country, we spend more than the next ten nations combined (many of whom we claim are our allies).

Speaking of boycotts, many of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, where half the population has virtually no rights. Yet few of us advocate a boycott of oil from that nation.

The fact is that every single piece of the computers we use to surf the internet came out of the ground, mined under often horrible conditions. And yet no one is calling for a boycott of computers.

If we truly want to help poor people in Third World nations, we can start by dismantling our military-industrial-corporate complex that currently runs roughshod across the planet.

Tom, I apologize for the rant, but boycotting jade (or diamonds) or calling for an end to child labor seems to me a simplistic solution to a complex problem. I don't believe it will do anything to bring about a change in the lives of poor people. Advocating that our own government rein in its glutonous war machine might have a better shot.
March 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Hughes
IMHO, politics has a place, but not on a website for jade lovers...

Alan White
March 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAlan White
Very nice pictures.. beautiful work ..
May 6, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRishi Kant
dear sir!

You created all of beautiful pictures and I'd like to thank you.Now i stay in Hparkant and working.I feel so great when I look your picture. God bless you!

January 6, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjunov
Im looking for the good jade product. Anyone who interested to deal business with me, please send an email to me. Thank you.

March 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWCN
I am looking to sell Imperial Jade from a Guatemalan Jade Mine that i am currently in business with. I am looking for ongoing purchasers. Please email me at stellarpainting@gmail.com with a description of your business and what form of jade you are looking for. THank You
November 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRyan
October 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSERGEY SAAKYAN

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