The Chinese consider jade a mystical imperial stone.

Top grade jade is worth more than gold. And nowhere is it found in greater quality and quantity than in Myanmar, where the Chinese demand feeds a multi-billion dollar black market controlled by corrupt forces smuggling raw jade.

But there are severe human costs to securing the imperial stone.

In unregulated jade mines, hundreds of thousands of miners work in gruelling conditions to unearth the coveted stone. Risking injury and death, they are paid a pittance and abuse drugs to be able to toil longer hours.

For centuries, the Chinese have seen jade as an imperial stone with mystical properties. It is coveted all over China as a status symbol, a collectible, and an investment [Al Jazeera]

 

Demand from wealthy Chinese is rising and auctioneers at this year’s Shanghai World Jewellery Expo put the opening bid for top grade jade items at more than $160 a gram, exceeding four times the price of gold [Al Jazeera]

 

Myanmar is one of the world's largest jade producers - but many of the precious gemstones enter the black market and are smuggled out of the country [Al Jazeera]

 

Myanmar's official jade export revenue from 2011 to 2014 was $1.3bn but others say this figure is grossly undervalued. Harvard University's Ash Center estimates total jade sales - including through unofficial channels - were $8bn in 2011 alone [Al Jazeera]

 

Most raw jade from Myanmar is smuggled out of the remote mining town of Hpakant, which produces some of the world's best quality jade [Al Jazeera]

 

At the Mandalay jade market, traders bargain and jostle over prices that will spur on miners to dig ever deeper for jadeite - famous for its translucence and varied colours [Al Jazeera]

 

In unregulated jade mines in the mining town of Hpakant, hundreds of thousands of miners work in gruelling conditions to unearth the coveted stone [Al Jazeera]

 

Tens of thousands of small-time jade pickers have flooded Hpakant to sift through mine tailings, risking life and limb to toil in harsh conditions, hoping to strike jackpot [Al Jazeera]

 

Risking injury and death, jade-pickers are paid a pittance and often abuse drugs to be able to toil longer hours [Al Jazeera]

 

One jade picker estimates that 75 percent of the miners have become drug addicts. They get their daily dose of heroin, or yama - a type of methamphetamine - from drug dens around town. It numbs them from their backbreaking labour and helps them work longer hours in the harsh weather [Al Jazeera]

 

Recovery methods for drug addicts border on the extreme in this Myitkyina drug rehab centre in an attempt to wean miners off their heroin-based fix [Al Jazeera]

For more, watch our 101 East investigation Myanmar's Jade Curse

Source: Al Jazeera