Ancient Chinese bronzes are no longer alien to Western eyes. Fine Chinese bronzes and ceramics, often used in ceremonial and ancestor-worship rituals, command extraordinary prices these days. Auction houses such as Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams have raked in record-breaking prices for Chinese bronzes recently. Bloomberg reported a 3,000-year-old bronze ritual food vessel sold for US$12 million in London in October 2013. In Hong Kong, also in October 2013, a gilt-bronze seated Buddha sold for US$30.5 million at Sotheby’s. In March 2013, Christie’s collected US$1.26 million for a 5.5-inch bronze vessel from the Shang Dynasty and a circa 1700 8-inch pear-shaped vase with blue underglaze for US$3.82 million.
Who is buying? In 2012, 70 percent of Chinese art sold at the leading auction houses were bought by Chinese buyers from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Collectors have always treasured antiquities both for their beauty and as mementos of the past. However, until the introduction of archaeology in the early 20th century, there was not much contextual meaning given to these cultural artifacts. One can say history offers a factual timeline, and archaeology is the physical manifestation.
There are approximately 400,000 archaeological sites in China of which only 70,000 have been recognized as such. China’s archaeology has mainly been off-limits to Westerners. Important scholarly research on Chinese archaeology and cultural history that, until now, had been published only in Chinese will soon be available to English readers. In early 2014, Minnetonka-based East View Press* will translate into English and publish current issues of the award-winning Chinese journal “Wenwu” as “Chinese Cultural Relics” on a quarterly basis. “Wenwu” has been in publication since the 1950s.
Xie Nien Lin, East Asian librarian at Dartmouth College, quoted one professor saying, “It [Wenwu] is the oldest and one of the three most important top-tier Chinese journals in the field of Chinese archaeology and antiquities. It contains more research articles than similar journals. The publication of ‘Chinese Cultural Relics’ will allow non-Chinese-speaking scholars to gain access to ‘Wenwu’s’ valuable information.”
Each issue of “Chinese Cultural Relics” covers current archaeological work being done in China, such as the inscribed bronzes of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties and the Tsinghua Collection of Bamboo Slip manuscripts. Each issue will include high quality, detailed photographs and hand-drawn illustrations.
“The beautiful photos and illustrations of architectural features and the finds associated with the excavation are amazing. However, for us, it is very helpful to have articles such as ‘Conservations and studies of tombs with murals of Tang Dynasty in Guanzhong Region,’ which focus specifically on conservation,” said Sheila Cummins of the Getty Conservation Institute.
Close to approximately 9,000 museums and academic institutions in the world currently subscribe to the Chinese “Wenwu.” Winner of many Chinese publishing awards, “Wenwu” is recognized in Chinese publishing circles as “the scientific journal with most international influence.” With interest in Chinese antiquities growing globally, the English translation, “Chinese Cultural Relics,” will make it possible for non-Chinese readers to learn about China, its archaeological findings and cultural history.
The Xian terracotta warriors touring museums around the world have certainly raised visibility of China’s rich cultural past and historical artifacts. Kent D. Lee, East View’s founder and CEO, says, “Study of and interest in Chinese archaeology and cultural relics are no longer restricted to specialists and those who can read Chinese. With the upcoming publication of ‘Chinese Cultural Relics,’ a treasure trove of vital information in this field will be accessible to everyone interested in learning more about China and its amazing history.”
So before you succumb to temptation on the Internet or on an overseas trip to buy a piece of Chinese culture, do some in-depth research with the resources available.
And, a word of caution: Since 2009, the mainland Chinese government has prohibited the export of Chinese antiques produced before 1911. President George W. Bush signed an executive order before he left office restricting the importation of Chinese antiques that are more than 250 years old. Understand the risks and calculate the probability of finding a genuine Chinese antique!
*East View has a long history of making authoritative journals, books and maps from Eurasia accessible through English translation. “Chinese Cultural Relics” is an extension of this tradition and will be available both in print and online. Sample article and contents for the premiere issue and additional information can be found at http://www.eastviewpress.com.