Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Quick Link

Check it out: Why China is so obsessed with World Heritage

What do you think?

If you remember THIS post from a while back, you’ll already know that several months ago, an 800 year-old merchant vessel dubbed “Nanhai No. 1” was successfully located and excavated from the coastal waters of Guangdong Province. Well, recently, another vessel, this one called “Nan’ao-1,” dated roughly 400 year old was found, and salvage excavation is now underway.

According to the report from Xinhuanews, the plan is to excavate the more than 10,000 pieces of locally produced, Ming Dynasty porcelains that were the ship’s main cargo, and then attempt to raise the remains of the ship itself for further study. The excavators claim that “the excavation of the ship will help us learn more about China’s foreign trade at that time.”

The article also notes that the project has been postponed several months due to poor weather and working conditions, but no mention was made of how the finds will be preserved. “Nanhai No. 1” is currently being kept “…in a glass pool at a local museum, the water there duplicating the conditions in which the wreck was found.”

Hopefully, a similar arrangement will be made for “Nan’ao-1.”

Interestingly, these articles never go into full detail about either the projects, of the preservation conditions of the finds… or what happens to the artifacts after they are excavated…something to keep in mind. However, that they claim to be doing the up most to preserve the wreckages is promising.

What this newest excavation shows, however, is that Guangdong’s coastal waters are rapidly becoming a hotbed of underwater archaeology in China, which is itself a budding discipline. It will be interesting to see, in the future, whether Western scholars will be allowed to participate in such projects and whether Chinese underwater archaeology can become a “next big thing.” It also makes me wonder what the state of underwater looting is in China… a subject that has not yet been broached on many fronts. Does anyone out there in the blogosphere have any information on it? I’ll try to do some digging on the subject, but my gut instinct says that somehow, it is not as developed in China as it is in other areas of the word…. prove me wrong!

So far in China, according to the report, salvage archaeology and underwater archaeology is still very much a state-run enterprise.

under construction

apologies for the prolonged silence. Will be back soon.

…I just twittered a SAFECORNER post that has to do with FAKES on the Antiquities Market, and it has gotten me thinking: IF people were some how able to create accurate and authentic reproductions of ancient relics that are free of temporal or stylistic inconsistencies (already kind of a pipe dream), would it be entirely wrong to use these reproductions as teaching tools? Could they be put on display at at museums as long as they were clearly labelled as reproductions in order not to mislead the public?

I think it could be an interesting way to make sure authentic artifacts are not put in harms way. In addition, the idea that they could be used to deter real looting is more than a little intriguing.

Then again, IF they could be used as a mechanism to stop actual looting, how would we go about establishing it? I would like to learn more about the role of forgeries on the antiquities market and whether or not they are truly as insidious as some people claim they are, and if there is really some kind of untapped cultural heritage protection tool that we can begin to exploit…

What are your thoughts?

Something many of you who have dabbled in Antiquities Market research already know is the so-called “driving force of collectors;” well, in China, as many sinologists already know, a new class of people have recently been exercising their social and economic power. This new class, called China’s New Bourgeoise, is made up primarily of wealthy, professional urbanites in cities like Beijing and Shanghai, and their effect on China’s antiquities market has been quite influential.

I recently Twittered a short article from The Museum Security Network regarding the drive of China’s domestic collectors to acquire Chinese antiquities. The article draws particular attention to operation of the Chinese antiquities market in which archaeological sites get looted by locals using sophisticated archaeological techniques, and sell their goods to middlemen who bring them to Hong Kong, where a legal loophole in which Hong Kong is not yet bound by PRC law (for the next 40 or so years) is exploited and the antiquities are sold to international as well a domestic buyers.

What I really took away from this article, however, is not so much how looted antiquities flow through China’s markets, but rather, the ever-growing problem of this new Chinese bourgeois class, which has developed a taste for collecting art that is just as voracious, if not more so, than that of developed Western countries. What is unique in this situation is that China has effectively become both a “source nation” as well as a “market nation.” This creates problems of international legislation as many defenders of the antiquities market (museum directors and prominent collectors, etc…) can argue that international sanctions against the buying and selling of unprovenanced antiquities are rendered futile if domestic buyers are not also sanctioned in the same way.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

[EDIT:] To draw more attention to this, consider the comment Dr. Kwame Opoku posted on my recent article on SAFECORNER. What do you think should be done about reconciling the differences between international and domestic cultural heritage protection plans and legal statutes?

If any of you have been exploring the links on the right hand side of this page, then you’ve probably already stumbled upon the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center‘s website. Some exciting things have been happening over there recently, and I feel that it is worthwhile to draw your attention to them (even if you can’t attend).

So far in 2010, the BJCHPC has successfully co-hosted, with the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing, a lecture entitled “The Rebirth of Folk Art,” in which He Shuzhong, the founder and president of the CHP imparted upon a group of local Bejing residents, the importance of the relationship between locals and cultural heritage rights. To learn more about this lecture, and the seem some pictures, click HERE. The CHP’s FACEBOOK page also contains a great summary of the event as well as more pictures.

Another important event was the BJCHPC’s first-ever domestic fund raising event, which took place in the Houhai district of Beijing.

For more information about these and other BJCHPC events, check out their website linked above.

For those interested in the UCCA, check out there upcoming events HERE.

[Upcoming Sneak Peek: All about Caocao; Fakes on the Chinese Antiquities Market: The Good, The Bad, and the Misguided. Stay tuned!]

Happy New Year!

Check it out!

For those of you still interested in the current upheaval surrounding the ongoing Chinese visitation to US and European museums, you should check out THIS piece that I wrote for SAFECORNER. Post your comments here, or there, or anywhere as they are always appreciated.

…and Happy Holidays!

Reactions and comments on two articles that have recently come out, one in the British newspaper, The Telegraph, and the other just today in the New York Times have garnerd a great deal of public opinion.

Trolling the comments pages is fascinating because it allows us to guage how the general public feels about these issues, and whether or not they are aware of any potential truths and falsehoods behind the rather succinct reports.

If you haven’t yet read the articles, I have linked to them above.

And for those of you who have read the articles, but don’t have the time or energy to troll through pages and pages of what other people write, I have selected a few choice excerpts to display here.

From The Telegraph article:

My prediction is that in 50 years time, Britain will not be in a position to say no to the return of the artifacts. The balance of power is inexorably shifting from West to East and all the arguments based on right will be eventually settled by might, as they have been since the beginning of history. – H. Yates

It’s about time that these artifacts be returned to their countries of origin. The British and French have no right to them. Besides, it would do French and British culture some good, the returned artifacts will make room for native French and British artifacts. China should join with Italy, Greece, Iraq, Egypt, Iran, and any other country who has artifacts looted by these two imperial powers and demand their cultural heritage back. And united front in this matter would be the best strategy. – Old School

please respect the research team.Their mission is to document not to ask for return.So just focus on it.
It is a great and difficult task to show the whole pictures of that invasion history, which shall not be forgotten . – Nikita

I think the artifacts should stay where they are. The British museum has taken better care of them than the chinese would have. If the chinese government is taking an interest in it’s history, it should be thanking the museums and private collectors who have been preserving chinese artifacts. If these artifacts had been left in china, they most likely would have been destroyed in the cultural revolution. The fact that they are in museums in britain is the only reason that they still exist today. – Dave

Of course EVERYTHING looted should be returned. Museums would be emptied until copies could be made. But, the originals should be returned. It is an arrogant response to state “we took good care of them” Since they belong to other countries, we stole them. It’s that simple. Even if they were destroyed and lost by staying in the country of origin, it is the business of that country. Not ours. When I see people use any excuse to drag Tibet or Taiwan into this argument I have the same response. Not your business. Not mine. It is the business of China. I also wonder how we would feel if China or Iraq or any other country were to start poking noses into UK affairs or policies. Send it all back to the country of origin, with apologies for being thieving bastards. Say we are more civilized now, our ancestors were not. – Dave T.

From The New York Times article:

One must wonder how many of these art treasures would have survived Mao’s Red Guard while they mindlessly destroyed all evidence of the “old ways”….China has a long memory when they wish to bring to the attention of the western countries that they were exploited…China has a convenient memory when it suits them. – Hooter

Beijing’s determination to reclaim its cultural heritage would bear a good deal more credibility if they’d stop ransaking the culture of their own Tibetan and Uighur minorities. – Stu Freeman

…the Chinese want to portray themselves as victims of colonial aggression – Andy

Actually, I, as a citizen of the socalled People’s Republic of China,completely agree that those antiquities are better to be preserved in the great USA museums.With good,scientific,well-intended caring and highly-efficient study,they can be in a greater situation of protection and of greater use and value.
I fundamentally disagree with the visit of the delegation…I want to ask that who payed for the fees of the “reclaiming”?…why dot’t you(the communists of CPC) put the money to render better protection of the remnants of relics at home? ……Are the untold number of antiquities and relice ruined in the notorious Cultural Revolution more vulueable and treasurous than those plundered from Yuanmingyuan? And……who should be responsible for ruining and destroying so many great antiquities in the damned Cultural Revolution? Maybe we should hold a debate at home instead of going abroad in vain! – Isaac

This bemused and farcical account does a great disservice to readers who rely on the New York Times for objective and insightful journalism.
The Summer Palace was not just a single palace, but rather, an 860-acre estate which served as one of the world’s foremost repositories of art and architecture. In terms of its cultural and administrative importance, the Summer Palace stood in contrast to the “Winter Palace,” which is a famous structure shown in many postcards today depicting Beijing tourist sites.
The Summer Palace was plundered, five hundred of its unarmed custodians were massacred or driven out, and its buildings were burned to the ground during the Second Opium War by French and English troops on the orders of the eighth Earl of Elgin (ironically, the son of the seventh Lord Elgin infamous for relieving the Parthenon of its marble friezes).
Lord Elgin’s orders were issued when the Chinese Imperium refused to allow the sale of narcotics in their land. To provide an imperfect fictional modern analogy, imagine if a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan (and not the U.S.) were the world’s foremost superpower, and then imagine if Afghan forces marched a “world coalition” into Vatican City, stole or destroyed all of the art and relics there, murdered the clergy, and then dropped an atomic bomb on the city because the Holy See refused to allow Taliban drug cartels to traffic heroin in the streets of Vatican City. Just as we would be appalled and outraged by such an occurrence for generations to come, the citizens of China understandably remain appalled and outraged by the destruction of the Summer Palace.

The tone of the article conveys little sympathy with the Chinese perspective of things. It dismissively characterizes the delegation’s work as “a spectacle sponsored by a Chinese liquor company,” recounts the delegation’s activities in a most diminutive way (e.g., “The Chinese pronounced themselves satisfied, smiled for a group photo, and drove away.”), and gives great weight to reports of ulterior motives in the delegation’s mission…….As the NYT’s own columnist Thomas Friedman admonishes, we live in a globalized economy where an accurate understanding of other cultural perspectives is imperative to professional success and successful economic engagement. By portraying China in such a buffoonish way on a matter of great importance, and by downplaying the very human yearning of the Chinese people for redress of a serious crime committed against their nation and their forefathers, this article performs a great disservice upon its readers and falls far short of the high standards of journalism which the paper professes. – Dexter H.

They certainly have played up the repatriation of relics in recent months, and there is not a shadow of a doubt in my mind that this tour was as motivated by politics as any genuine hope of reclaiming stolen history. I also realize that the Summer Palace museum is in need of a modern overhaul, and that chances are most of the looted items are in private collections today (though, I’d bet that they are far more successful in the UK and France than the US, being that those countries were the actual perpetrators of the looting). However, despite these problems, I think this is overall a good quest. – Shanghai Expat

Why not cooperte with the chinese government and jointly devise a plan to uncover and resolve any issue with the “looted” chinese treasuries if there is one. There is a lot of history and cultural significance in these objects. And China probably is the best to find out the historical significance and value in the chinese and the world history. – Jim

..and so on.

Take a gander at the articles if you are interested in this ongoing saga. Or better yet, check out an upcoming post on the SAFE blog, SAFECORNER, written by yours truly that will be coming out in the next few days.

If these article piqued your fancy, you might also be interested in reading about the views and positions of various Chinese Nationals about China purchasing looted Qing Dynasty antiquities, much like the ones they are currently surveying and examining in the West.

If you recall THIS post on this blog several months ago, you’ll remember that China has recently been funding a full-scale excavation of a submerged Ming dynasty merchant vessel that sank off of the coast of Guangdong nearly 800 years ago.

Well, on December 3rd, Xinhuanet posted that over 2,000 visitors turned up to the  soft opening of a museum dedicated to showcasing the remains of the vessel as they are being uncovered and studied. The museum is said to open for good on December 24th of this year.

According to the article, construction of the museum began in 2006, and cost more than 200 million RMB (approximately 29 million USD). Despite the costly construction, attendees complained that the exhibitions were quite small, consisting only of some porcelains and a small amount of silver and gold pieces. The reason, most likely, for the small size of the exhibits is that the true, full-scale excavation of the vessel, despite having been brought to the surface of the ocean for quite some time already, is not set to begin until next year.