The China-Myanmar border is home to an ancient practice of gambling on rocks. Known as “stone” or “jade gambling,” this practice spans centuries. To this day, thousands of buyers flock to Ruili, a city located along the China-Myanmar border in China’s Yunnan province, to stake their savings on seemingly normal-looking rocks, hoping to find precious treasures underneath and win big.
But, why did this curious practice of stone gambling start in this region, and how does it work?
Jade Gambling 101: The What and The How
Jade gambling, known as Dushi, is the process of betting on rough, uncut jadeite stones, hoping that they contain high-quality, valuable jade inside. Raw, uncut jadeite is usually covered with a base material and looks no different than any other rock. It is only after the stone is cut that it will reveal what is inside- precious jade or worthless rock.
People buy a single rock for anywhere between 20 and 200,000 yuan ($3 to $28,000). After the purchase, they go to a stone cutter to get the stone cut. If a buyer is lucky enough to bag the rare high-quality green form of translucent jade, they can sell it for a high profit ranging in the millions, making back the money they spent many times over. But if it turns out to be a worthless rock, it means the buyer spent all that money for nothing. Despite the risks, for each one of the buyers, this process offers a chance to change their life.
A phrase that jade dealers often like to quote is that there is a price even for gold but no price for jade. Indeed, there are several stories of people who bet on these rocks and hit pay dirt, becoming millionaires. Long Jiheng’s story is one such tale. In 1997, he spent 2 million yuan ($295,000) on an uncut rock with a valuable jade stone inside. The value of the jade was more than 20 times what he had spent, and he became a millionaire overnight.
But why are people willing to bet so much on jade? This is because jade is a non-renewable resource whose reserves are becoming increasingly exhausted. As the years go by, the price of green jadeite is predicted to increase even more. So, anyone possessing it can resell it for multiple factors higher in the future.
The uncut stones come in various shapes, colors, and transparencies. However, the outer surface does not indicate what lies inside, so the practice of stone gambling is indeed a gamble. According to Tang Zhongqiu, a store owner at Xizang Road North who has been in the business for more than three decades, the more transparent the rock, the higher the chances of judging whether there is precious jade inside. So, buyers often look for cracks in the stone or shine a flashlight on it, hoping it will act as a window into what is inside. However, appraising the stone’s value is difficult until you cut it open. So, instead of bearing the risk of the gamble, some experienced buyers often sell the uncut stones to others.
One way in which buyers appraise the value of the stones they bought is by counting how long it takes for the stone cutter to cut open their stones. High-quality jadeite stone has a high density and can take hours to cut. So, if the call from the stone cutter comes early, it means the buyer’s gamble did not pay off.
Not a Newly-formed Trend
Myanmar is home to the world’s biggest jade mines. It is the source of some of the most precious jade stones. 90% of China’s jade is imported from Myanmar. Most of the uncut stones from the mines are dumped at Ruili because of its close proximity to Myanmar. This reduces transportation costs. The lack of jade artisans in Ruili also makes it very convenient to dump raw stones of unknown value.
The practice of stone gambling itself dates back to the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644). Historical records show that jade traders used to visit the China-Myanmar border and speculate on the color, transparency, and quality of the jade that the stones may house inside based on the outer surface alone. It is this practice that has flourished into a full-blown business today.
By the time the 20th century rolled around, jade traders had developed several customs and rituals that they performed before betting on the uncut rocks in hopes that these rituals would give them guidance on whether they should bet their savings on the rocks or not. These included burning incense, abstaining from sex as well as eating meat, and performing a four-day observation on the stone they had chosen. Some buyers would even kill and stew a rooster that was over a year old. They would eat its head and look at the bones to see if they should go through with the purchase. Despite all this, as the saying goes, “even an immortal cannot judge an inch of jade.”
The Practice of Gambling on Rocks Goes Live
Because of the increasing demand, the jade industry has become very lucrative in the past decade. Every year, more than 500,000 jobs are created in the Yunnan province because of it. However, stone gambling has always been confined to Ruili and its neighboring areas. So, to attract buyers from different provinces and countries, many jade merchants started livestreaming the whole practice.
The livestreams start with an introduction of the rocks available, with in-depth details about a few of them. Viewers, then, guess the value of the rock. If someone decides to buy a rock, more often that not, they ask the merchant to cut the stone live, making the livestream more exciting. Buyers also have the option of having the uncut rock shipped to them directly. Although this is considered gambling, even more so by having this more advanced version of jade gambling having a “live gameplay” streaming component, it’s miles away from what you would experience on proper iGaming websites like Rooli casino and their live poker or blackjack tables.
Because of the success that live streams brought to the jade industry, raw jade trade markets with government-approved broadcasters cropped up. To boost engagement and increase online sales of jade, live streamers began concocting great background stories for the stones. Not only has live streaming stone gambling done away with regional barriers, but it has also brought an industry into the 21st century. Who knows, maybe some iteration of it does end up being listed by game operators in online casinos. It’s a stretch, but it’s possible, at least as an entertaining homage to it.