Is that stone really worth stealing?


Is that stone really worth stealing?

The China Post staff

Is it really worth all that?

That question won’t be easily answered by the police laboratory trying to determine the value of two kilograms of stone fragments an unemployed factory worker has dug up from a river in Beitou.

Beitou Creek, which carries sulphur-rich hot spring water, is also abundant with Hokutolite, a kind of Angleso-baryte which many people of Taiwan believe is a cure-all, with a value as high as NT$1,000 a gram.

The police lab was asked to ascertain whether the stone, which Huang Chun-wu, 40, of Taipei, had dug up, is in fact Hokutolite. If so, Huang may be charged with the theft of a national treasure and liable for up to five years in prison if convicted.

The mineral could also turn out to be a load of worthless stone in which case Huang could be prosecuted for petty theft for removing stone from a riverbed.

Regardless of the outcome of these tests, the larger question remains: Is it really worth stealing at all? This question may never be answered as there is no scientific evidence that Hokutolite has any medical value whatsoever.

Police caught Huang red-handed last Wednesday. They also seized chisels and stone fragments, which could be worth at least NT$200,000 on the retail market if they are, in fact, Hokutolite stones.

Hokutolite has a history of its own. Known as a “national treasure,” Hokutolite was discovered by a Japanese mineralogist in 1905, only 10 years after China ceded Taiwan to Japan under the Treaty of Shimonoseki.

The term Hokutolite comes from the Japanese pronunciation of Beitou in Mandarin and the English suffix for stone which is “lite.”

Much research has been done on Hokutolite. One of the researchers was none other than Dr. Lee Yuan-tseh himself, Taiwan’s first native-born Nobel laureate who only recently stepped down as president of Academia Sinica.

Lee wrote a thesis on the radioactivity of Hokutolite. The thesis earned him a masters degree in chemistry from Tsing Hua University.

Contrary to popular belief in Taiwan, Hokutolite is considered to be useless by most scientists and possibly toxic. There is no specific data on the health dangers associated with the mineral, but people are urged to exercise caution when handling it.

Its chemical elements include barium, oxygen, lead and sulphur.

Yohachiro Okamoto, the first researcher to study the mineral, claimed that the mineral also contained uranium which is radioactive. The name Hokutolite was given at an international mineralogical conference at St. Petersburg in 1912.

Hokutolite was designated as a national treasure in 1933, after Hirohito, then crown prince, had done a on-the-spot study at Beitou 10 years before. It has kept its national treasure designation since that time.

Hirohito was the Japanese emperor during the second World War, including the infamous Pearl Harbor attacks.

However, Hokutolite is not unique to Taiwan. It can also be found in many other places all over the world over.

In Honshu, Japan, Hokutolite is found in the Tohoku (Northeast) region, Akita, Senboku, Tazawako and Tamagawa.

It is also found in Malaysia and Borneo, in particular near Kuching, Sarawak.

According to mineralogists, Hokutolite increases its thickness by one centimeter every 130 years.