China's supplies of a rare jade, mainly mined from a river in Xinjiang, will soon be exhausted if excessive exploitation continues, a gem expert warned.
Wang Shiqi, deputy director of Peking University's Gemstone Appraisal Centre, said deposits of Khotan, or Hotan, jade would be depleted in five or six years if the government did not stop the indiscriminate use of heavy excavation machinery along Xinjiang's Yurungkax River, the main source of the stone.
The jade, named after Hotan, a city on the river, is considered to be the highest quality because of its pure texture and tallow-like lustre. It has been associated with emperors throughout Chinese history.
Khotan jade can sell for up to 1,000 yuan a gram, and prices have rocketed in recent years because of a sharp decrease in output.
Xinhua said prospectors with modern mining equipment had flooded into the region to capitalise on the gemstone's high prices. They had seriously depleted the jade and damaged the environment.
'There are about 200,000 people and about 2,000 excavators working along the Yurungkax River,' one jade miner was quoted by Xinhua as saying. He said it was getting harder to find the gemstone. Mainland media have said that more than 80 per cent of the jade had been extracted.
Hotan jade trader Zheng Shengli said he thought the jade would be depleted in no more than three years if overexploitation continued.
'I am an insider of the business and know more about the situation,' Mr Zheng said. 'About half of the machines have stopped running now because no gemstones can be found.'
He said local residents were generally poor, but many had borrowed money and pooled it to buy excavation equipment, costing as much as 350,000 yuan.