SOAS University of London

SOAS scholar awarded £300K from British Academy to research Life Stories of the China-Myanmar Jade Trade

29 October 2018

Dr Mandy Sadan, Reader in the History of South East Asia, has been awarded £300,000 from the British Academy Sustainable Development Programme for a two-year project called 'Sustainable Lives in Scarred Landscapes: Heritage, Environment, and Violence in the China-Myanmar Jade Trade'.

Working with Professor Dan Smyer Yu, Director of the Centre for Trans-Himalayan Studies at Yunnan Minzu University, the project aims to build collaboration between researchers from northern Myanmar and a team from Yunnan, who will together study the contentious history of the jade trade, a resource that is understood very differently on both sides of the border.

Although jade is one of the most culturally valued minerals in China, there is limited awareness among Chinese consumers that its most precious form, jadeite, comes from mines in northern Myanmar, or that it has been implicated in one of that country’s longest civil wars. The value of the trade is vast - a 2015 report by Global Witness even estimated that it amounted to 48% of Myanmar’s GDP in recent years - but this wealth is now largely out of the hands of local people. In recent years, extraction has become associated locally with environmental degradation and social harm.

The project seeks to reconnect these disconnected histories, experiences, and understandings of jadeite by exploring the diverse life experiences of people who mine, trade, gamble, process, buy and wear jadeite.

With partners such as Alcis, PostiveNegatives and Oral Testimony Works, the team hopes that their findings, focused upon the everyday experiences of people involved in the trade, will support the goals of sustainable peace, human development and environmental protection in northern Myanmar. By working with the heritage sector in Yunnan, they also hope that the project will help Chinese consumers to develop a new understanding of jadeite and the resource heritage that they share across borders.