So serious is the problem of faking in China that China Archeology and Art Digest recently highlighted it, saying “Today China has 5,000 shops retailing antiquities and the forgeries business is in full swing”. China Cultural Relics News says “the proliferation of fake paintings and calligraphy is destroying that market, and as is well known porcelains and jades face a similar crisis”. Jason Sun, assistant curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, confirms: “I see so many fakes in China. The quality goes from very poor to extremely close. The problem is that the fakers have become much more sophisticated, and today’s well-illustrated books with great photos, are really helping them.” The art trade is both worried and very jumpy. “It’s a real headache,” laments Mee Seen Loong of Sotheby’s Chinese department, while Christie’s, when asked, will only issue a printed statement from an unidentified “member of the Chinese department”, which states, “There has recently been a proliferation of fakes and we recommend that each piece be researched carefully, checking with knowledgeable specialists who in addition to having handled newly excavated material, also have a good eye for quality. It is also useful to compare examples from old collections formed in a time when fakes were less prevalent”. In the galleries, a number of recent, major shows are thought to have contained many fakes, although no one will go on record on the subject.
A well worked and modelled fake jade. It is superior to the other fakes illustrated and is a much more sophisticated creation than its clumsily formed cousins. The design is that of an ornamental archer’s ring. This type of jade was in fashion in the late Warring States and early Han dynasties and was made to resemble an archery ring embellished with other design elements. Its purpose was entirely ornamental. The copy is well worked and has a polished glow to the stone, which fortunately lacks the depth and mellowness of a genuine example. Its design elements are in some areas overdone and contrived and its creator has also neglected to add enough wear and distress on its surface and extremities. It is too bright and new
Above and right, these monster and dragon plaques are loosely based on Eastern Zhou originals. They are far too thick, genuine examples being more thin and refined. These copies are too large, their finish perfunctory and the colour of the stone dead. The so-called calcified areas contrast too starkly with the polished areas. Again the faker is trying too hard and his creation is clumsy, contrived and lacks the vitality of the original. The eyes and facial features lack the subtle low-relief work of the genuine examples
Below right, a genuine dragon plaque from the Warring States dynasty. Compared to the other two jades, the design is simpler, more flowing and the surface ornament softer
Bi disc with dragons. The bi disc was and still is one of the earliest, best known and most sought after jades in the world. The earliest discs were plain (4000-2500 BC); later examples were decorated in low relief with designs of spirals and scrollwork and some Han examples had as a decorative device curling dragons in relief. This fake example is based on a Han original and it gives itself away in more that one way. The dragons are too large. They are clumsy and contrived; they crouch and curl but lack the tensile strength of a genuine Han dragon. There are too many of them for the size of the disc and they are far too large: originals would curl in and out of and around the surface
The gold of the east
Jade has been prized for thousand of years by the Chinese and can be loosely compared to the value gold has traditionally held in the west. Jade is, however, imbued with much more profound connotations than gold. It was revered from early times (before 5000 BC) fulfilling various roles as a symbolic weapon, ritual object and highly valued ornament and regalia, and symbolised all the best qualities associated with Confucian values. Jade was discovered late in the day by the West. European and American collectors in the late 19th century were sold some good jades but many simply had the appearance of “old” jade. The fakes were characteristically a dirty green and brown tone and were somewhat crudely worked. In fact many early jades are remarkably refined, sophisticated and aesthetically beautiful. With military and commercial Western intrusions into China in 1860 and 1900, many jades were stolen by the European military forces, palace eunuchs and other members of the Beijing population and came onto the art market in both China and the West. Fine Imperial examples such as white screens, incense burners, animals, spinach-green brushpots, bowls, yellow jade vases and fruit groups were looted from the Imperial palaces and were made available to Western collectors. Thus the Imperial household’s taste in jades of the 18th century was revealed to previously ignorant Western eyes. In the first half of the 20th century, the fashion was for Qing jades, the majority from the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (1736-95). The 20th century saw the arrival of tomb wares in the West as European railway engineers and archaeologists dug their way across the Chinese landscape. The Chinese were happy to provide examples of such mingqi, the majority being pottery, for Western collectors. They were not of great attraction to Chinese collectors at that time, although archaic bronzes which were weathered over the years have historically been the exception, as have archaic jades. Archaic jades were rare and were prized by the knowledgeable and elite Chinese collectors, who acquired them, and were sometimes buried with them as treasured heirlooms for the afterlife.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as “The forgeries business is in full swing”