Thursday, October 12, 2017

Grinding away: DIY jade jewellery in Hualien

For thousands of years, jade has held a special fascination for people of Chinese origin. Taipei's Weekend Jade Market (on the corner of Jianguo South Road and Renai Road every Saturday and Sunday) is packed with both locals and tourists. One of the most important deities in the folk religions of Taiwan and China is called the Jade Emperor. And in the National Palace Museum, one can see precious items made of jade or jade-like materials that are almost 7,000 years old. Among them are blades, discs, dragons, and figurines of humans or gods. 

In ancient China, jade was treasured for its toughness and beauty and valued more highly than gold. Jade thumb rings were popular during the Ming and Qing dynasties; wearing them showed one didn't engage in physical labour. Jade artifacts were also valued by the indigenous Peinan culture in southeast Taiwan 4,000 years ago.

One of the very few places in Taiwan with natural jade is around Baibao Brook in Hualien County (above), a favorite getaway spot of mine. Between 1965 and the 1980s, over 1,000 tonnes of Taiwanese nephrite (green jade) was removed from the area each year. The industry then slumped, but the traditions and skills of jade cutting and carving are preserved at Lu-Fung Taiwan Jade Workshop (如豐琢玉工坊; tel: (038) 65-2323; 91 Zhongxiao Street, Shoufeng Township).
As soon as we entered the workshop, I was stunned by the huge amount of jade lying around. There were football-sized chunks, as well as buckets filled with sheets and slices.
Watching one of the professionals at work. Grinding and polishing jade all day long looks like it could be awfully tough on your arms and shoulders. I noticed the employees all wore masks, although the machines used trickling water to keep dust to a minimum. Overall, the working environment didn't appear particularly noisome.

Visitors who sign up for the DIY experience (NTD450 per person) can choose a small piece of jade (no bigger than a cigarette lighter) and try their best to shape and polish it. It isn't easy, but with a bit of help from the endearingly patient staff after less than an hour you'll end up with a nice little souvenir.
My bony, inexpert fingers during the polishing stage. I dropped the jade more than once:
This is how a craftsman cuts jade. Tourists aren't allowed to try this, for obvious reasons:
The end result:

To find out more or make a booking, you should get a Chinese-speaker to call at least a day ahead. Lu-Fang's Chinese-only  website is here.

This visit and blog post were sponsored by the East Rift Valley National Scenic Area Administration.