The mineral steatite—known as soapstone—has for centuries been held in high esteem by the Chinese for the ease with which it is carved and shaped into objects of artistic and practical value. The Chinese term for soapstone, huashi, may also include such substances as pudding-stone, lodestone and talc, but it excludes marble, quartz and limestone. Soapstone is appreciated for its relative softness, which allows it to be carved with a knife or chisel (as opposed to jade, for example, which is harder than steel), and for its wide spectrum of natural colours. It is classified according to geographical source and visual characteristics such as colour and translucency. The southern and eastern coastal provinces of Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong have been the main sources of soapstone for centuries.
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