Monday, 30 March 2015

New Evidence on the History of Sino-Arabic Relations: A Study of Yang Liangyao’s Embassy to the Abbasid Caliphate

Yang Liangyaos Reise von 785 n. Chr. zum Kalifen von Bagdad: Eine Mission im Zeichen einer frühen sino-arabischen Mächte-Allianz? Taschenbuch – 2014

Tang envoy made sea voyage 600 years before Zheng He

The stele inscribed with the achievements of Yang Liangyao. (Internet photo)
The stele inscribed with the achievements of Yang Liangyao. (Internet photo)
The great maritime feats of the Ming Dynasty admiral Zheng He may have been achieved six centuries earlier by a Tang Dynasty diplomat, according to a recent TV program aired by China Shaanxi Broadcasting Corp.
Widely recognized as the greatest admiral of ancient China, Zheng is listed among the world's foremost pioneers in maritime history for the series of expeditions that saw Chinese ships sail to far-flung destinations including the coastal territories and islands in the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and beyond between 1405 and 1433.
According to the TV program, a recent study of a stele inscribed with more than 1,000 words on the achievements of Yang Liangyao throughout his career in diplomacy during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) showed that Yang may have made the same journey as Zheng He six centuries earlier.
The stele was first discovered in the 1980s in Shaanxi province's Jingyang county, at a site believed to be Yang's tomb. Last year, a structure believed to be the stele's base was discovered at a nearby village, giving researchers more clues to dig deeper.
Researchers found that the inscriptions contain accounts of a journey by a fleet commanded by Yang, who sailed across the Western Pacific Ocean, through the Strait of Malacca and the Indian Ocean to reach the Abbasid Caliphate, now modern day Iraq.
Inscriptions on the stele stated that when Yang reached the fertile crescent between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, he had ordered to have his ships anchored before continuing the journey by land to the Abbasid Caliphate capital, modern-day Baghdad.
A Shaanxi official said that during the Tang Dynasty, China had maintained close ties with the Middle East partly due to the bustling trade over the "maritime silk road," and that the latest findings gleaned from the stele provides valuable details on the far-reaching voyages by diplomats during the era.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Dutch collector willing to return Buddha  27 march 2015

Dutch collector willing to return Buddha
A CT scan shows a bodywhose internal organs were removedconcealed in an ancient Chinese statueof a Buddha. [Photos provided by the Drents Museum]
The Dutch private collector who now owns the 1,000-year-old Buddha statue with amummified monk inside is willing to return the relic to Chinaif the statue is proven to bestolen from Chinaaccording to Amsterdam-based newspaper NRC Handelsblad.
According to the reportthe current ownerwho works as an architect in Amsterdampurchased the statue for 40,000 guilders ($19,786) in 1995, the same year a Buddha statuewas reported stolen from China.
Jin Ruiguoan official with the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH), said in astatement that based on photoslocal archives and witness statementsSACH can confirmthat this Buddha statue was stolen from a temple in Yangchun village in east China's Fujianprovince in 1995.
The collector said the statue is indeed similar to the one in photos of the Buddha stolen fromChinaHoweverthe Chinese reports say the Buddha was stolen in October, 1995 by thelunar calendar (which corresponds to the period from end of November to mid December, 1995 by the solar calendar), but the collector can prove that the statue was already in theNetherlands in mid 1995, hence it is uncertain whether the two Buddha statues are the sameone.
The owner is willing to invest moreincluding in DNA testing technologiesto further verify theidentity of the BuddhaThe SACH is also gathering more evidence and working with other departments to secure the statue's returnJin said.

Dutch collector willing to return Buddha

The statue attracted attention after a CT scan last year found it contained a mummy of a 12th century Buddhist monkThe monk sits on a pillow that is around 300 years older.
Chinese characters are written on the side of the pillowwhich say the monk's name wasZhang Liuquan.
The Buddha statue was included in a "Mummy Worldexhibition at the Hungarian NaturalHistory Museumwhich opened in October last yearIt was originally scheduled to be ondisplay until May 17.
The Hungarian Natural History Museum borrowed the statue from the Drents Museum inAssenthe NetherlandsOn March 20, the Dutch owner withdrew the statue from theexhibition in order to "calmly and critically evaluate the unexpected situation," said astatement sent to Xinhua by the owner's spokesman.
According to Yangchun archivesa monkliving in the village in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), helped cure people with his knowledge of Chinese herbal medicineWhen he diedhis bodywas mummified and local people made a statue to hold his body.
The statue was worshipped as an icon.
The collector was once offered 10 million euro for the statuebut declined to sell it despite theimpressive sumIf the statue is indeed the one stolen from Chinathe collector is willing toreturn the statuebut wishes that it would return to the village where it was originallyworshippedinstead of to showcases at museums.

America's Century-Long Hunt for Asian Art Treasures

The China Collectors: America's Century-Long Hunt for Asian Art Treasures Hardcover – March 10, 2015

Thanks to Salem sea captains, Gilded Age millionaires, curators on horseback and missionaries gone native, North American museums now possess the greatest collections of Chinese art outside of East Asia itself. How did it happen? The China Collectors is the first full account of a century-long treasure hunt in China from the Opium Wars and the Boxer Rebellion to Mao Zedong's 1949 ascent.

The principal gatherers are mostly little known and defy invention. They included "foreign devils" who braved desert sandstorms, bandits and local warlords in acquiring significant works. Adventurous curators like Langdon Warner, a forebear of Indiana Jones, argued that the caves of Dunhuang were already threatened by vandals, thereby justifying the removal of frescoes and sculptures. Other Americans include George Kates, an alumnus of Harvard, Oxford and Hollywood, who fell in love with Ming furniture. The Chinese were divided between dealers who profited from the artworks' removal, and scholars who sought to protect their country's patrimony. Duanfang, the greatest Chinese collector of his era, was beheaded in a coup and his splendid bronzes now adorn major museums. Others in this rich tapestry include Charles Lang Freer, an enlightened Detroit entrepreneur, two generations of Rockefellers, and Avery Brundage, the imperious Olympian, and Arthur Sackler, the grand acquisitor. No less important are two museum directors, Cleveland's Sherman Lee and Kansas City's Laurence Sickman, who challenged the East Coast's hegemony.

Shareen Blair Brysac and Karl E. Meyer even-handedly consider whether ancient treasures were looted or salvaged, and whether it was morally acceptable to spirit hitherto inaccessible objects westward, where they could be studied and preserved by trained museum personnel. And how should the US and Canada and their museums respond now that China has the means and will to reclaim its missing patrimony?


"Sharply written throughout and packed with anecdotes, The China Collectors is one of those works of cultural history actually intended for readers of novels and newspapers.... Like so much of the best nonfiction, The China Collectors is as entertaining as it is eye-opening." (The Washington Post)

The China Collectors draws on archives that include reminiscences about looting… [and]describes a range of items, from teacups to columns, that foreign diplomats, merchants, soldiers, archaeologists and explorers funneled to private collections and museums. (The New York Times)

"Two journalists explore the allure of Asian art …a passion shared by some fascinating figures throughout the past century." (Kirkus Reviews)

Meyer and Brysac reunite to present a thorough survey of the key players responsible for shaping many of America's most comprehensive collections of Chinese art. (Library Journal)

Historians Meyer and Brysac track the provenance of the Chinese collections housed in U.S. museums in this impressively researched survey of the adventurers who acquired these treasures… the issue of whether Chinese relics should be returned home is a timely one. (Publisher's Weekly)

"The China Collectors is a journey every bit as thrilling and surprising as the expeditions that fill its pages. From the story of America's hunger for Asian antiquities, Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac have unearthed a tale that is rich with politics, culture, and adventure. It is not only the cinematic story of Boston Brahmins and Beijing Mandarins, dueling for China's treasures, but also an epic drama about great powers, drawn together by mutual fascination and suspicion." - Evan Osnos, author of Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China

"The China Collectors
 is a treasure trove of indispensable information about North America's abiding fascination with the art, architecture, and archeology of China. It is essential reading for anyone, cognoscente and dilettante alike, with an interest in the history of the acquisition and exhibition of China's artistic heritage in the United States and Canada." -Victor H. Mair, professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania

"In this fascinating book, Karl Meyer and Shareen Brysac reveal the extraordinary stories behind the outstanding collections of Chinese art in American museums. From ships' captains and pioneering explorers armed with pick-axes and guns as they braved bandits and frost-bite to pioneering collectors and dealers in the Peking antique markets of the 1920s and 1930s, the cast of characters is stunning. The questions of legitimacy and restitution are also dealt with sensitively. It is beautifully written treasure trove." -Frances Wood, author of The Silk Road

"This edifying page-turner is the crème de la crème of archeological adventuring. Combining a connoisseur's vision of Chinese art with the narrative sweep of master story tellers Meyer and Brysac have produced the first comprehensive account of the controversial treasure hunt to pirate imperial artwork, exotic gems and ancient relics from China's vanquished Imperial palaces and the ancient ruins of Buddhist cities. This vibrant tapestry is threaded with unique vignettes and a cast of passionate personalities (who looted or salvaged, transported and traded the coveted historical treasures which now adorn the world's top museums." - Audrey Ronning Topping: Author of China Mission: A Personal History from Imperial China to The People's Republic)
Praise for Tournament of Shadows:

A magisterial work of scholarship...written with elegant assurance. (Jason Goodwin, The New York Times Book Review)

An admirable achievement--an enjoyable, encyclopaedic treasure-trove of maverick adventures, duplicitous mischief and mystical swashbuckling. (The Sunday Times (London))

A treasure trove of anecdotes and original sources for the specialist, and a rollicking yarn for those new to the subject. (Charles Clover, Financial Times)

Praise for Kingmakers:

Beautifully written and researched. (The Washington Post)

Enlightening and commendably told. (The New York Times)

   About the Author

Shareen Blair Brysac has been an award-winning documentary producer for CBS News, the author of four books including Tournament of Shadows and Kingmakers, and a contributing editor of Archaeology Magazine. She has written for The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe International Herald TribuneThe Nation and Military History Quarterly

Karl E. Meyer was a longtime foreign correspondent and editorial writer at The Washington Post and The New York Times and the Editor of the World Policy Journal. A Princeton Ph.D., he has taught at Yale, Princeton, and Tufts' Fletcher School. His fourteen books include The Plundered Past, on the illicit trade in antiquities; The Art Museum: Power, Money, Ethics; and The Pleasures of Archaeology.

The China Collectors

Q. and A.: Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac on ‘The China Collectors’

"Offering Procession of the Empress as Donor With Her Court," frieze from Longmen, Binyang Central Cave, Henan Province, circa 522.Credit Courtesy of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 40-38.
Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac have written a rollicking account of the acquisition of Chinese art and antiquities by Americans who came to China in the 19th and 20th centuries and took back vast collections from caves, palaces and the back rooms of dealers in Beijing. In “The China Collectors: America’s Century-Long Hunt for Asian Art Treasures,” the authors describe how lovers of Chinese art roamed the country hunting for sculptures, wall panels, furniture, porcelain and paintings that are now housed in important museums in the United States. Some of the artworks they tried to send back were ruined in the process.
CreditCourtesy of Palgrave Macmillan
Whether their forays represented a rapacious plundering of China’s past or the fortuitous preservation of antiquities that might otherwise have been destroyed by war or greed in China is a theme of constant debate. Mr. Meyer, a former editorial writer for The New York Times, and Ms. Brysac, a documentary producer with a degree in art history, straddle the fence on that question. They have plumbed personal papers, historical records and memoirs of the main characters to piece together a startling tale of Americans who went to great lengths to obtain the artifacts that became part of a booming trade in the United States and Europe. In an interview, they described their findings: 
What was the inspiration for “The China Collectors?” 
Langdon Warner in China, circa 1928.Credit Courtesy of Anne Warner Taubes
Ms. Brysac: We had been invited to be members of St. Antony’s, a graduate college at Oxford. However, we needed a project. In 1997, while we researching our first joint book, “Tournament of Shadows” on the Great Game in Asia, we had uncovered files in the Harvard archives relating to the acquisition of the great “Empress” frieze from Longmen in China, now in Kansas City. The correspondence between Laurence Sickman, then a scout for the newly founded Nelson Gallery in Kansas City, and his Harvard mentor Langdon Warner was exceptionally frank — to summarize: “Go for it!” This was off our topic then. But in 2012, we looked into it and discovered that provenance research on Chinese art was in its infancy, and there were many archives that had not been mined. We were sure we had a book. 
One of the most remarkable episodes is about Langdon Warner and the Dunhuang caves. The use of cloths soaked in thick glue applied to the walls to remove murals sounds so crude. How did that work? Where are the murals now? Where is the Tang Dynasty bodhisattva that he pried from its base?
"Bust of an Attendant Bodhisattva," fragment of a wall painting from Dunhuang, Gansu Province, early eighth century.Credit Courtesy of Harvard Art Museums
Ms. Brysac: The method the Harvard art historian Langdon Warner used for removing the paintings in 1924 was based on that developed for detaching frescoes in Europe. But the Dunhuang paintings were not true frescoes. The techniques the Chinese artists used on the cave surfaces were quite different. Although Warner followed the best practices of the time, the caves were icy, the hot glue froze and became unworkable, so pigment remained on the walls when the strips were removed. Then he had to transport the 12 painting fragments and the Tang bodhisattva for 18 weeks in a springless cart, wrapped in his underwear.
By the time they reached Cambridge, where they are now in the Harvard Art Museums, they were in a very bad state of preservation, and the conservator had a difficult time removing the glue-soaked pigment. Only five of the fragments and the bodhisattva sculpture are in good enough condition to be exhibited. However, the Getty Conservation Institute is now involved in the preservation of the Dunhuang material, including the remaining cave paintings.
Laurence Sickman, who later became the director of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, was involved with some of Warner’s exploits. Could you explain?
Laurence Sickman in Luoyang, China.Credit Courtesy of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Archives.
Ms. Brysac: Warner had had his eye on the Longmen caves in Henan Province since 1909, but he had been unable to obtain funding from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where he was then working, to explore them. The grottoes contain thousands of Buddhist statues. Both the French scholar Édouard Chavannes and the American collector Charles Lang Freer had them photographed between 1907 and 1911, and soon, dealers using Chavannes’s images in China and Europe were sending local peasants out to hack away at the unguarded sculptures. 
Three Harvard-trained scholars, Warner, Sickman and Alan Priest, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum, had fixed upon what Priest described as the “Elgin Marbles of China,” two friezes from the Binyang cave showing the donors, Empress Wenzhao and the Emperor Xiaowen, with their courtiers. Sickman made notes and rubbings of the Empress frieze while it was still intact in 1931. But by late 1932, fragments — bits of hands, heads — began to appear in Beijing antique shops. When Sickman revisited the caves in 1933, he wrote Warner that “whole figures had been chipped from walls and niches.” What should he do?
The Fogg and the Nelson agreed together to provide funds to acquire all the pieces and reassemble them in Kansas City. Priest and the Met acquired the other pieces from a Beijing dealer who was then commissioned to acquire the remaining heads directly from the site. Sickman continued to express regret over the looting at the site. “I would give almost anything if it [the Empress frieze] had never left the Pin-Yang cave.” 
C.T. Loo was the leading dealer of Longmen sculptures. What happened to his collection? And what about the Longmen grottoes? What condition are they in?
Ms. Brysac: C.T. Loo is viewed by the Chinese as the archvillain who abetted the destruction of their cultural heritage, because, unlike the American and Canadian curators, he was native-born. Loo conducted a mail-order business providing photos to dealers who then hired local peasants to steal sculptures now in many collections in the United States and Europe. He was an early supporter of the Kuomintang, so was well connected with Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Chinese and was able to get artwork out of the country, thus skirting China’s export laws. His Chinese inventory was confiscated by the Chinese Communists when they took over, but his galleries in New York and Paris continued to sell his stock. Upon his retirement, his New York gallery was taken over by Frank Caro. As to Longmen caves, they are now protected as a Unesco World Heritage site. 
The United States minister to China, Edwin H. Conger, far left, conferring with his staff, including Herbert Squiers, the American Legation's first secretary, far right, circa 1901.CreditLibrary of Congress
Some American diplomats at the turn of the 20th century seem to have felt no qualms about taking out huge caches of Chinese art treasures. Herbert Squiers, the first secretary at the United States Legation, loaded up rail cars with artworks and then sold them to buy a 700-ton state-of-the-art yacht. Was there no shame at that time?
Mr. Meyer: There was a developing sense of shame. As we write, by 1901, “looting had become bad form; at least a pretense of virtue was expected.” Thus, when The New York Times questioned the Metropolitan Museum about accepting donations from Squiers in 1901, an unnamed spokesman responded, “The Metropolitan Museum of Art does not accept looted art,” and since Squiers was “a gentleman without question,” it would be presumed his works “had been honestly got.”
As the years passed and disorders gripped China, even the pretense of virtue lessened. When Squiers auctioned his prizes a decade or so later, the sale catalogs underscored the imperial provenance of key works. 
You write that the Chinese government has basically depended on the art market to restore treasures to China. Chinese collectors pay large sums to bring back porcelain, sculpture, paintings. But might this approach change, and China demand that American museums return artworks?
Mr. Meyer: To date, Beijing has yet to formally demand the restitution of objects now in American museums. It has relied instead on market tools to secure recovery of disputed works at auctions, or through private sales, using as proxies either private collectors or the state-owned Poly Group. But yes, museum curators and directors are on the alert for changing signals. 
As best as we could determine, the likely response to any formal demand would be, one, that the museum has a valid sale receipt and export license for objects acquired before 1970, the cutoff date for importing antiquities; two, that the work has been better protected and preserved than if it remained in situ; three, that yielding on legal grounds would fix a precedent for a swarm of other demands. Finally, four, if the original sale transaction now looks bad, it accorded with common practices over the era. For example, curators argue, though the reputed purchase of Manhattan from Native Americans for $24 now looks bad, should we now give them the island? 
But we at least owe an honest account of the original sale, as our book tries to offer regarding Chinese collections. 
Shareen Blair Brysac and Karl E. Meyer, authors of "The China Collectors."  Credit Susan E. Meyer
Is there unease at some American museums with substantial Asian collections that one day they may have to return some of their favorite things to China?
Mr. Meyer: Museum officials worry that they may have to return some prizes to China, but opportunities also beckon for extended loans, swaps and other collaborative ventures. Chinese visitors now constitute the fastest-growing segment of cultural tourism, and flocks of mainland students are now enrolled in major U.S. universities. Against this, insiders credibly complain about a hard-driving mercantilism on the part of Chinese cultural officials seeking to maximize profits in loan programs. But, taken as a whole, the horizons are bright. 
Your book comes out as the Robert H. Ellsworthcollection, considered to be one of the finest private collections of Asian art, has been auctioned in New York for more than $131 million. What does that sale say about the desirability of Chinese antiquities in the United States, and in China? 
Mr. Meyer: The Ellsworth sale, in our estimate, is the last of its kind in America, and probably the West in general. It is no longer possible for a private person to assemble a collection of such magnitude. Times are long past when Chinese art was an underpriced bargain, when foreigners could shop in the mainland, and when collectors were still at the kindergarten level in their knowledge of Asian art. Robert Ellsworth was at once an innovative, pioneering dealer and a serious scholar. The sale totals may tell us a lot about the present and future of China collecting.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Mural paintings unearthed in Yuan Dynasty tomb 27 March 2015
Mural paintings have been found in a tomb dating from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) during construction in Taiyuan, North China’s Shanxi province, March 27, 2015. The paintings in the octagonal tomb feature people, flowers and birds. Feng Gang, an archaeologist at the Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute in Taiyuan, says the findings are of considerable value to history, art and science. Restoration work has begun to preserve the findings. (Photo: China News Service/Wei Liang)