1993 / 11月
Jackie chen /photos courtesy of Vincent Chang /tr. by Brent Heinrich
I in the original home of the Liangzhu relics, rumors are circulating that many pieces of antique jade have been stolen and smuggled out of the country. Word has it that the most likely destination is another Chinese land: Taiwan. What could the real story be?
In a prosperous area of Taipei, the bright, pretty windows of an art and antique store display objects that can often be seen at an archaeological dig, stone daggers, stone axes, and delicate jade jewelry, such as necklaces and rings. The sales girl in the store smilingly gives an introduction. On her neck she wears pieces of Liangzhu jade. "Their shapes are uniform; it's evident that they came from the same tomb," she says with certainty.
The most enchanting kind of Liangzhu jade is the tsung, carved with gods and beast faces. Such refined antiques are not easily displayed in paraphernalia shops, but rumor has it that in Taiwan they are not so terribly hard to find.
"In March of this year in Kaohsiung, one was sold for NT$3,000,000. It was divided in two sections, about eight centimeters long," said Hung Hsiou-ling of Ching Dah Chuang antique store in Kaohsiung.
Jeff Hsu specializes in the sale and appraisal of jade. When asked to verify this news, his eyes widened and he shook his head, saying, "That's not very likely!" He gives two reasons First, the price is too low. Second, Liangzhu tsungs have already disappeared in Taiwan, in today's antique circles, it is in demand but simply not available.A tableful of ridiculousness:
Nevertheless, many people claim that a lot of Liangzhu jade is in the hands of Taiwanese collectors. Even public and private museums have bought Liangzhu jade. "The Chang Foundation has exhibited tsungs from the neolithic era. In a special exhibit on world culture, the National Palace Museum has a display of Liangzhu era jade. Both are said to have been purchased in recent years," Hsu Cheng-fu says.
How much of the missing Liangzhu jade has ended up in Taiwan? And who is collecting it? This kind of information is a matter of opinion. Even professional antique experts say that they are not sure.
What everyone is certain of is that is that the market is flooded with fakes. National Palace Museum Researcher Teng Shu-ping, who has carried out a good deal of research on Liangzhu jade, recalls that about half a year after the report on the Fanshan ruins was published in 1988, many identical counterfeits appeared in Taiwan.
Teng Shu-ping relates, "One time an elderly lady came back from travels in the mainland with a whole bag full of supposed Liangzhu era jade objects that she asked me to appraise. As soon as I saw them, it was clear to me that they were plastic. A tableful of presumed jade! To me, it was a tableful of ridiculousness!"Is Taiwan criminal?
How, then, can one verify the authenticity of Liangzhu jade? "It's a very technical issue," explains jade expert Na Chi-liang. The objects of art from every era have their own special characteristics. The gods and animal face patterns of Liangzhu art is similar to the Taotie, a legendary beast often seen in statues of the Shang and Chou dynasties. But upon a more precise comparison, the beast faces of Liangzhu works appear more rustic and simple; they purvey a feeling of fierceness. The Taotie of the Shang and Chou are more intricate. Such comparisons should also take into consideration the quality of the jade, the shape of the object, the patterns carved into it and the craftsmanship; then one can be well informed of the authenticity.
In Taiwan's antique market, Liangzhu jade is a thoroughly hot item. Hung Hsiou-ling states that some neolithic jade pieces have already appeared, for instance from the Hungshan culture of Liaoning or the Lungshan culture of Shandong, and their quality is quite superb. However, the amount available is extremely small, so that none of them reaches the commercial markets. One aspect of Liangzhu jade is that its craftsmanship and historical value are both quite high. Another aspect is that the number of artifacts is relatively great, so there are many jade thieves digging them up. For this reason there is a chance to make a return on one's investment in the marketplace, so a great scramble is underway for these items.
Many people feel that in the last few years the loss of cultural artifacts in mainland China has become very serious. Taiwan's antique traders and collectors, who are busy fighting each other to buy them, can hardly be excused from responsibility. Said one observer, "If I can speak bluntly, the mainlanders are robbing graves of their treasures and smuggling them away, and the situation is bad. In reality, though, it is Taiwan that is behind it all committing the crime."A wish for silent history:
In Jeff Hsu's opinion, the loss of mainland China's cultural treasures has already had a long history. It is not only those from Taiwan who are buying them. "What we should ask is, if Taiwan does not buy mainland artifacts, will that mean that they won't disappear?" He believes that enjoying the deep beauty and value of antiques is an inherent part of human nature. It is impossible for every antique and object of art to be stored in a museum. Because of this, it is appropriate to open up channels and let private collectors participate in the purchase of artifacts, giving judicious guidance according to circumstances. That is the proper method for stopping the disappearance and damage of relics.
"And from the perspective of Chinese people, if the artifacts flow to Taiwan, perhaps they will be better appreciated than if other regions of the world obtained them," he says.
Such a statement is quite proper and reasonable on the surface. Nevertheless, in terms of present circumstances, the open channels in the mainland have their limit, and the demand of the market is high. All of their artifacts are still trapped in a cycle of demand, supply, smuggling and ruin.
It is often purported in the jade markets that objects of authentic Liangzhu jade exist in Taiwan, and the price of the adoration placed upon them is their unceasing destruction. If this is so, who is to say that the final resting place they long for the most is not the very soil that they came from, where they can be silent pieces of history?
In Hong Kong's Cat Street jade market, many people come to hunt treasure. If you ask the traders where these relics come from, nearly all will answer, from archaeologically plentiful Xi'an.
In Hong Kong's Cat Street jade market, counterfeit Liangzhu jade can be seen everywhere.
In the Fanshan ruins is a public toilet. Rumor has it that the bricks used to build it came from the Han dynasty.