China allegory of the day

by on July 18, 2013 at 2:34 am in Current Affairs, History, The Arts | Permalink

The subtitle of the article is:

A Chinese museum has been forced to close after claims that its 40,000-strong collection of supposedly ancient relics was almost entirely composed of fakes.

Here is one good excerpt:

Wei Yingjun, the museum’s chief consultant, conceded the museum did not have the proper provincial authorizations to operate but said he was “quite positive” that at least 80 of the museum’s 40,000 objects had been confirmed as authentic.

“I’m positive that we do have authentic items in the museum.”

Here is another bit:

Mr Wei said that objects of “dubious” origin had been “marked very clearly” so as not to mislead visitors and vowed to sue Mr Ma, the whistle-blowing writer, for blackening the museum’s name.

“He [acted] like the head of a rebel group during the Cultural Revolution – leading a bunch of Red Guards and making chaos,” Mr Wei claimed.

Shao Baoming, the deputy curator, said “at least half of the exhibits” were authentic while the owner, Wang Zonquan, claimed that “even the gods cannot tell whether the exhibits are fake or not,” the Shanghai Daily reported.

China is in the midst of a museum boom, and it is believed that eighty percent of the fossils in Chinese museums are fake.

Here is a very good piece by Kate Mckenzie on the Chinese economy.

1 prior_approval July 18, 2013 at 2:52 am

Well, at least the Chinese aren’t stealing their exhbits – something that seems to be a well established European vice.

2 Vernunft July 18, 2013 at 5:02 am

No, China just steals whole countries. Hi, Tibet!

3 Axa July 18, 2013 at 5:23 am

They should buy some Van Gogh’s from Detroit.

4 dead serious July 18, 2013 at 8:14 am

Not to mention intellectual property.

5 Roy July 18, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Most of the stolen art in Europe was stolen from other Europeans. Are you suggesting Italy return Rome’s loot? Or maybe Denmark should fork over various Viking hordes.

Having spent a truly horrific summer researching the Jingdezhen porcelain industry, in particular the origin of its raw materials, there is enough theft to go around.

6 Handle July 18, 2013 at 5:55 am

Where’s Tom Wolfe? I wonder if this follows the fake art plot of his, “Back to Blood”? The question is, who commissioned the fakes and why?

7 Urso July 18, 2013 at 7:53 am

“even the gods cannot tell whether the exhibits are fake or not”
I love this response. I mean, what is “fake” anyway?

This story is a great allegory for something, but I’m not sure what exactly.

8 Mark Thorson July 18, 2013 at 9:31 am

I thought the pandasaurus was interesting, but the hellokittysaurus was clearly over the top.

9 anon July 18, 2013 at 7:58 am

Better fakes in their museums than fakes in their (beautiful) women.

And what about fake Chinese food? (Don’t forget to ask for the “secret menu”.)

Not to mention all the fake / counterfeit stuff sold in Chinatown.

10 Andrew' July 18, 2013 at 8:07 am

Again I ask, is that place as weird as it seems?

11 anon July 18, 2013 at 8:13 am

To know Chinese people is to (mostly) love Chinese people.

12 anon July 18, 2013 at 8:16 am

Look at the top image in the story and tell me the person who made that didn’t have a good sense of humor.

13 Tom West July 18, 2013 at 9:25 am

Well, in the short term, it seems pretty rational from the “teach people about the past” perspective. Not so good if the museum’s collection was actual being used for research.

14 ElamBend July 18, 2013 at 11:11 am

Phillip K Dick strikes again (ref: Man in the High Castle)

15 Roy July 18, 2013 at 1:38 pm

fake fossils are incredibly common. They are very easy to make, very few people can tell the difference, and if one of them is involved the only way to detect them is to destroy the specimen. The Chinese have lots of very smart people, and their paleontologists, who are often world class, make almost nothing. As long as the country’s dinosaur quarries are not vigorously policed and controlled there will always be huge numbers of fakes. I actually know a very good paleontologist who got started as a child faking trilobites in Morocco. His family used the money earned from that to send him to school. Don’t worry he is completely reformed now and one of the most honest people I know.

I have found a lot of fossils in my time and have seen an awful lot of fakes, many in American museums. Often the museums themselves know they are of dubious quality, but removing popular exhibits and looking like a fool is not a way to get ahead in the museum business. The number of Miocene fossils in the world that are as spectacular as the ones you see in better museums is absolutely minute, pre Cenozoic vertebrate fossils are incredibly rare and they are almost never full skeletons. Several of the ones you see in New York, Washington, Paris, etc… are actually assembled from multiple specimens, sometimes even fpund at different locations.

16 Peter the Shark July 19, 2013 at 6:17 am

There are also various conspiracy theories that the famous Terracotta Army in Xian is also a hoax. Probably because the timing of the discovery was very convenient – they showed up just after the Cultural Revolution had destroyed most of the ancient relics and buildings in China that would have attracted tourists, and just as China was reopening to the world and starting to think about tourists. At one point foreign archeologists weren’t allowed to examine the site, which of course was grist for the conspiracy mill. I believe that may no longer be the case however.

17 Helen DeWitt July 19, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Could this have some sort of connection with the art of elegant bribery? I’m pretty sure I first heard of this through a link on MR, so it is probably not new to the cohort of fellow loyal fans, but newcomers may be unaware of the full glory of the thing. First, not necessarily best, link I come up with on Google (but fast and frugal heuristics are our friend):

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