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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!