“As soon as I touched it, it just sang to me – such a beautiful stone. I fell in love with jade at that moment. I didn’t haggle, didn’t bargain. I just bought it. From that moment I started to become interested in jade,” says Shaw, whose book, Jade Life: An Englishman’s Love Affair with China’s National Treasure, was recently published by Earnshaw Books.
Shaw had taken the sabbatical as a break from a job that he no longer enjoyed and a respite from caring for his ill mother. He returned home to his filial obligations and the BBC job, but the interest in jade didn’t wane – instead it became an obsession. He sought out books on the subject and was disappointed to find they were all about ancient jade pieces.
“I wasn’t interested in that. I wanted modern, beautifully carved, cold to the hand, serene pieces that made me feel calm. In the end I decided if I really wanted to know about jade, I needed to go to China. I need to learn to carve,” he says.
In 2006, he was in Vietnam to cover the trial of disgraced British pop star Gary Glitter when he got the news that his mother had died. His mother had always been proud of her son working for the BBC, but her death, after a long illness, made him re-evaluate his life. He was fed up with journalism – it was time to do something different. He put his affairs in order and decided to go to Suzhou, a city west of Shanghai, where he had heard there was a jade carving centre.