THE STONE OF HEAVEN: Unearthing the Secret History of Imperial Green Jade

Adrian Levy, Author, Cathy Scott-Clark, Joint Author . Little, Brown $24.95 (432p) ISBN 978-0-316-52596-1

In an ambitious effort that is equal parts history, sensationalized gossip and political exposé, London Sunday Times investigative reporters Levy and Scott-Clark trace the winding path of the so-called "Stone of Heaven." The story begins in 1735, when jade-obsessed Chinese emperor Qianlong endeavors to extend China's reach into present-day Burma, reputed to contain the world's finest jade. Over time the infatuation with jade also infects French and British colonials, adventurers, Chinese gangsters, Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong, all of whom energetically loot the Imperial Court's treasures. Descriptions and provenances of legendary jade pieces (some of which are lost for centuries at a time) are given at length. Among the history's cast of characters is bad-girl Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, who receives a tabloid treatment of her jade collection, marriages, sexual misadventures and profligate spending. But the history, the gossip, even the sensational stories of the depredations of the indigenous tribes who fiercely protected their secret jade mines, pale in comparison to the authors' visit to Burma. Risking their lives, Levy and Scott-Clark pose as gemologists and, with guile, courage and bribery, reach Hpakant, home to the mines. There they find hundreds of thousands of destitute people virtually enslaved amid prostitution, government-sponsored heroin addiction, and "jade disease, or AIDS." The story of the quest for jade ends abruptly in a kind of hell, rendered as astutely as the excesses in this intriguing history. 40 b&w photos. This book's various elements rest uneasily together; no doubt, most readers will be lured by the romance of jade, but in fact the book's strongest point is its horrifying conclusion. (Jan. 12)

Reviewed on: 11/19/2001
Release date: 01/01/2002
Paperback - 448 pages - 978-0-316-09558-7
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