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In Session: Material Enchantments and Sacred Economies
From “Burmese Marble” to “Burmese White Jade”: Aesthetic Appreciation and The Transnational Marketing of Burmese Buddha Images to China
Monday, March 22, 2021
12:30pm – 2:00pm EDT
Arizona State University, United States
This paper explores the transnational trade of marble Buddhist images from Myanmar to China since the late 1980s. It first delineates the transnational network where Burmese marble quarry owners, workshop owners, and artisans in Sagyin, Myanmar, and Chinese workshop owners in Ruili, China, collaborate to produce marble Buddhist images and facilitate their circulation across the Sino-Burmese border. It highlights the Chinese re-classification of “Burmese marble” (b. sagyin kyauk) as “Burmese white jade” (c. miandian baiyu) and the jade-trade terminologies that are widely used by Chinese workshop owners when selling these images to Buddhist clients. Through analyzing the physical qualities of the Burmese marble and the nomenclature tradition of the Chinese jade culture, it reveals how the unique properties of Burmese marble justify its terminological transformation into “Burmese white jade.” Furthermore, this paper investigates how this misleading, yet not uncommon, classification, along with the jade-trade terminologies, draws on the cultural repertoire that is historically informed by the jade trade between Myanmar and China. This paper proposes that these cross-cultural dynamics about the material are crucial in understanding the contemporary development of this transnational trade of Buddhist icons. It also underscores the religious dimensions of Sino-Burmese border trades that have been overlooked by previous scholarship.