Jiboazhai: China’s fake antiques museum

Fakes are nothing new in China. From fake Apple stores & fake Ikea stores to fake rice made from plastic and even fake cities, almost everyday there is something new in China that is being faked, including & especially antiques. So it’s no surprise that there are also museums which are filled with fakes as well.

China’s Jiboazhai Museum Closed After Artifacts Discovered To Be Fake

A Chinese museum has been forced to close after claims that its 40,000-strong collection of supposedly ancient relics was almost entirely composed of fakes.  The Jibaozhai Museum, located in Jizhou, a city in the northern province of Hebei, opened in 2010 with its 12 exhibition halls packed with apparently unique cultural gems.  But the museum’s collection, while extensive, appears ultimately to have been flawed. On Monday, the museum’s ticket offices were shut amid claims that many of the exhibits were knock-offs that had been bought for between 100 yuan and 2,000 yuan.

A Chinese museum has been forced to close after claims that its 40,000-strong collection of supposedly ancient relics was almost entirely composed of fakes. The Jibaozhai Museum, located in Jizhou, a city in the northern province of Hebei, opened in 2010 with its 12 exhibition halls packed with apparently unique cultural gems. But the museum’s collection, while extensive, appears ultimately to have been flawed. On Monday, the museum’s ticket offices were shut amid claims that many of the exhibits were knock-offs that had been bought for between 100 yuan and 2,000 yuan.

 

However, this is a more complex story then it seems. Private museums are a sort of “rich man’s fad” that has popped up in China over the last ten years or so (with some of them being quite odd like the obscure Chinese businessmen museum). In fact, this trend  has been reflected in the market shift in that the main buyers of Chinese antiques are now the Chinese themselves. And the reasons for opening such museums are many ranging from “gaining face,” to tax breaks, national pride to even money laundering. So it’s possible Wang Zonquan (王宗泉)  knew the items in his Ji Bao Zhai museum (冀宝斋博物馆) were fake and simply lost face when he was found out (and later died from loosing face).

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Chai Kai – the art of structural repairs

拆开 (Chāi kāi) essentially means to “take apart” and people often don’t realize that when you restore a piece of Chinese antique furniture, usually in addition to  carefully cleaning it, it also usually must be taken apart and entirely refitted back together. Since Chinese furniture rarely uses nails, and instead uses a complex system of pegs and joints, the item can be completely disassembled, with the pieces spread out over the workshop floor.

parts and pieces of an antique table disassembled and deconstructed

Parts and pieces of an antique table disassembled, deconstructed and spread out across the workshop floor.

This serves a few different purposes. First and foremost, it allows the carpenter to tighten/re-peg the joinery. This in turn stabilizes the entire structure, as joints may gradually become loose over the  years due to changes in climate, shrinkage in the wood and/or excess handling.

disassembling exposes the joinery and like a complex puzzle must be put back together in the exact same manner.

Disassembling exposes the joinery and much like a complex puzzle, it must be put back together in the exact same fashion without missing any pieces. These days, in addition to materials and other costs, the carpentry work itself is in fact a huge part of the restoration cost as Chinese carpenters are now rightly seen as skilled craftsmen and thus are paid as such. One can easily understand why!

At the same time, gaps, larger cracks, splits or shrinkages that have developed over time can also be eliminated. Refitting the pieces back together, allows these gaps can be closed, (though at the same time essentially also reducing the piece in overall size though only by a few millimeters).

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Dirt, dirt and more dirt – cleaning a late Ming table via wet sand as part of the antique restoration process

late ming dynasty chinese antique square table from Shanxi

Recently we restored a late Ming dynasty square table from Shanxi province. Beautiful table and I thought it might be interesting to show the images of the cleaning process occurs which primarily involves a careful wet sand. Known in Chinese as 打水磨, its a unavoidable part of any antique restoration.

restoring chinese antiques - wet sanding
What a nasty mess! Removing about 300 to 400 years of accumulated dirt on this late Ming table is a time consuming process, which takes several hours at least. Patina? I think not – this is nothing but several hundred years of pure filth…  The beautiful underlying patina and original lacquer will only be revealed when the grime is removed.
wet sanding to clean antiques

Tools of the trade…. using a wet sand to remove grim looks easy. Its NOT.. Too much pressure and you remove the finish. Not enough pressure and you simply move the dirt around. Not enough water and you leave scratches. Wrong direction and you leave scratches… Oh and after a few minutes, anyone’s back will start to ache.

Bespoke Chinese style reproduction furniture – from concept to reality in seven simple (or not so simple) steps

Its always interesting to see the progression from idea to reality. When people come to me with raw ideas, my task is to walk them through process from the initial concept to final product. Usually that’ means helping them determine on the specific requirements, narrowing down the details and deciding on the “overall look and feel” before making the final selection. This is generally step one (aside from determining their budget, delivery time etc). The rest of the “magic” then occurs on the back end – and believe me it is magic. Actually sometimes it feels like a mix of art and voodoo if anything. From controlling quality, to anticipating unknown variables to understanding materials, construction and finishes the process is exceeding more complicated then most imagine. But the final product, especially when it finds its new home with a happy customer usually makes it worth while.

antique chinese custom furniture.

In this example, the customer wanted a sideboard that while based on an antique incorporated contemporary elements. Step two is usually narrowing down the specific style or “look of the piece.” Since nothing stood out to this customer from within our existing designs, we looked through various examples of antiques from which to build upon. Eventually we selected four pieces which had elements which appealed to them. Of course, none of these antique cabinets fit their needs exactly in terms of style, design and color/finish but rather provided us with a template in which to build upon.

antique chinese sideboard designs

Eventually we decided that we like the look and proportions of B and the size and configuration and of C. We also need to have fold back doors to allow for the maximum accessibility within the lowed compartment.  Armed with this information, step three is the actual design drawing, where very specific dimensions must be worked out and checked by the carpenter. After all, carpenters work from detailed drawings specifying every measurement. They don’t work from vague ideas. While some customers do have drawings most do not. And many times when customers do have a drawing it either lacks the detail necessary for the carpenter or it does factor in specific materials and construction issues. Anyone can do a drawing but a drawing that makes sense in terms of carpentry is a different matter. Note that I have deleted the dimensions on the example below. After all, if you want to make a similar cabinet yourself, then you will need to work out the dimensions on your own. Joinery is not shown here either as it was not necessary in this case as the carpenters themselves will choose the specific joinery based on tradition construction methods.

chinese custom made bespoke furniture design

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Classic Chinese style + contemporary stainless steel = design perfection

We all love antiques, but I  must admit, I see so many of them (obviously much more the average Joe). So once in a while, its refreshing to come across something completely new – even if it is with an old twist.

Chinese designer stainless_steel_tapered_cabinet

And this is why recently, I have really enjoying crafting these chrome-hybrid creations from stainless steel for some of our more stylish customers. Both trendy yet elegant, these are classical Chinese furniture designs reproduced in contemporary materials.

contemporary_chinese_furniture_asian_design_chrome_chairs

Encompassing elements of both past and present, the designs prove to be timeless, even when replicated in modern contemporary stainless steel. Eventually these will be “tomorrows antiques.” That’s the way I prefer to think of it anyway.

designer contemporary_asian_style_stainless_steel_chairs_chrome

And while the materials may have been updated for today’s world, much like antiques, design proportions, details and craftsmanship are crucial elements. However, this is easier said then done. I have seen some poorly designed, ill proportioned cheap looking stainless steel furniture. Minimal attention to detail, wrong proportions, shoddy workmanship. Done wrong= cheap furniture. Done right  = art.

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Burn, loot and pillage! Destruction of antiques during China’s Cultural Revolution.

chinese cultural revolution red furniture

 

Being out on the web, I get so many emails from people asking for help identifying pieces, woods, etc. I would love to be able to reply to them all, but its just not possible (hey – anyone want to pay me for this? ;) ) But this particular one which came in a few days ago caught my eye:

 

“I came across your excellent website and was wondering if you’d be able to help me with a cabinet I recently purchased at auction. I would have happily said it was the usual modern copy except the hand painted panels are very unusual and too much effort has gone into them. A Chinese friend has translated them and they seem to tell the story of a girl asked to join the communist party to route out the enemy. I’ve never seen such panels on a Chinese cabinet before and guess its 1950′s just after the revolution. Given your experience in the matter I was wondering about your take on them and if you have seen similar pieces before? Is it a modern fake etc or a patriotic country piece?”

 

 

The short answer would be yes, the cabinet is old with more recent paintings likely applied in the late 1960ies on top of the original ones. But that’s the short answer.  To properly answer this question, we need to rewind back to the  late 1960′ies/early 1970′ies during the time of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, or more commonly referred to as simply “the cultural revolution” For those who are unaware of this unique period in China’s recent history, then STOP HERE.


You need to first have some brief historical background on these events and so have read at the wikipedia page on the cultural revolution. We will also discuss the role of the red guards” (紅衛兵) which you will already be familiar with (again – having already at least scanned the wikipedia page). In past posts we have also discussed the “great leap forward” and its effect on Chinese antiques, so again pause and have a quick read on this subject before moving forward. Both events are significant and had a devastating effect on Chinese antiques. I could easily sidetracked here as these are fascinating historical periods.  So we will keep it simple and stick with discussing the “destruction of the four olds” campaign (破四旧立四新) and how it effected Chinese antiques.

 

“The Four Olds” (破四旧立四新) were essentially old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas, with the reasoning that these “four olds” were responsible for the holding back of China’s development. Of course, today now know these events were in reality essentially just an internal power struggle. Nevertheless, this was not a very good time be an antique or even an owner of antiques. While numbers have never been completely tallied or estimated, massive incalculable damage was sustained to all of China’s antiquities and cultural heritage. Antiques were destroyed and/or confiscated (and in some cases simply stolen) by the red guards (紅衛兵) who searched and ransacked homes of those considered to be bourgeois. Chinese literature, scrolls and other classics were burned, paintings torn apart, murals defaced and priceless antiquities shattered to pieces. Even families’ long-kept genealogy books and ancestor paintings were confiscated or worse, burned to ashes. Tangible history in large batches was lost forever.

china_cultural-revolution-burning_antique _buddha_statues

Nothing was safe. In addition to attacking and destroying private property, the red guards went after (and often succeeded) public property as well. Libraries were ransacked, monuments destroyed or severely damaged and religious sites and tombs of historical figures were desecrated. In Beijing, Red guards stored the Ming Dynasty tomb of  Wan Li and destroyed not only priceless artifacts but the emperor and empress’s remains were then publicly denounced and burned. According to the book “Mao’s Last Revolution” by the end of the cultural revolution, 4922 of the 6843 sites in Beijing officially designated as of “historical interest” had been destroyed. The forbidden city only barely managed to escape this mass chaos.

chinese cultural revolution - destruction of relics and antiques

In one of the worst acts of vandalism towards a priceless cultural relic, over 200 students from Beijing Normal University traveled by train in 1966 to the 2000+ year old temple of Confucius in Shandong with the express aim of thoroughly demolishing it. While the temple itself survived, over 6618 cultural artifacts from paintings to scrolls to graves were destroyed. Documented in the images above and below, these photos are striking as they depict red guards vandalizing the temple. Today this very same temple is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

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