Asked to name the most valuable stone in the world, most of us would think of diamonds, rubies – possibly emeralds. But there is something far more precious buried deep in the bedrock of the remotest mine in the world, a valley in the shadow of the Himalayas.
Imperial Green Jade, so obscure in the West, has been famed in the East for a thousand years, eulogised by the Chinese as the colour of the kingfisher’s neck feathers, the only thing on earth that was said to match its astonishing green hue.
Venerated by an eighteenth century Emperor, who ransomed his kingdom for the stone, it became his `treasure among treasures’ and was worshipped, ingested and traded. Ground into a powder, the mandarins of the Middle Kingdom consumed it as an elixir of life. Plump to the touch and oozing with warmth, concubines used it in lovemaking. This magical stone of heaven would remain locked away in the forbidden treasure houses of the East until capricious palace eunuchs began to conceal priceless pieces in the folds of their Confucian gowns and warlords plundered it from sacred Imperial tombs.
By the end of the eighteenth century, Europe could barely contain its curiosity and explorers were dispatched to `a barbaric land’, forced to negotiate with the Lord of Mines, a King who they reported `shone like the sun’. But they all returned empty handed, bearing only stolen glimpses of a smoking thicket that `rang with wild incantations’. It would be another 100 years before Imperial Green Jade travelled to the West. And when it did, it left behind a glittering trail of rubble, misery and destruction.
Today the Imperial Green Jade mine is still nearly impossible to reach, isolated by the Burmese government and its partners. This book reveals how Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark persuaded them to take them there and, in its final chapters, records their journey to uncover Imperial Green Jade’s biggest secret.
The Stone of Heaven brilliantly combines original historical research, travelogue and investigative journalism to relate a secret history of a gem that changed the lives of all who wore it, and shaped the destiny of nations that sought to control its source.
Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark didn’t plan to write a book about imperial green jade, but the gem found them.
INSIDE BORDERS More
This book, part detective story played out in musty Indian archives, part investigative journalism, travelogue and chronicle, is riveting.
THE SUNDAY TIMES More
Outstanding history of Jade.
THE SUNDAY TIMES