Expertise Wanted in Relics Collection

Recent years have witnessed a considerable increase in the number of people collecting cultural relics, but a majority of them lack the most basic knowledge. In one of the recent activities to celebrate the 25th International Museum Day, experts found 99 percent of cultural relics cherished by collectors were actually fakes.

From May 18 to 20, nearly 100 museums from Beijing and Tianjin held various activities in the Working People's Cultural Palace of Beijing, including scientific knowledge popularization, intelligence competition and temporary exhibitions. The one on determining the authenticity of cultural relics has attracted the most participants.

During the three days, cultural relics collectors in the two municipalities queued patiently under the scorching sun to wait for an expert appraisal of their collections. Some had even traveled from surrounding provinces.

Most collectors think it a way of investment, which has less risks than stock dealing and higher expected rewards. "I went crazy for jade ware a month ago when I happened to see a TV program on jade collection. I read more than 20 books in the past month on this subject. I think this is an investment way with great potentials," said a Beijing citizen.

A collector from Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region said that when he began collecting cultural relics more than a dozen years ago, he could buy some real ones. But now, as more and more people entered the field, prices had soared and real relics became rare. "However, I think it an ideal way of investment, for if I get one real out of the ten I collected, I am well rewarded."

All the people in attendance had two questions: One was whether their collection was authentic; the other was how much it was worth. Dong Jiping, deputy director of the Beijing Ancient Building Museum, felt a little worried about the phenomena.

"Cultural relics have historical, art and scientific values. If its economic value is over-exaggerated, the historical and cultural information in it will be shadowed. What's more, it might lead to malignant competition in cultural relics market. The final victim may be the collectors themselves," she said.

"Cultural relics collection is not as easy as some imagine. To accurately determine the value of a cultural relic, one must have certain historical knowledge and rich experiences as well as the ability to speak out its material, form and quality," said Zhao Guanglin, a porcelain expert with Beijing Administration of Cultural Heritage.

"Of the porcelain I evaluated throughout the day, 99 percent were fakes. Collectors now cherish many obviously counterfeit relics as 'a big treasure'. So I think it must be put onto agenda to popularize cultural relics collection knowledge."

Incomplete statistics show that now China has 50 million people engaging in cultural relics collection, while most of them are worried about the authenticity and value of their collections.

According to Ma Xigui, former curator of Capital Museum and secretary general of Beijing Museum Society, the professional agencies involved in determining the authenticity of cultural relics are mainly State Cultural Relics Authentication Committee and cultural relics authentication committees at provincial or municipal levels.

Some big museums also have their own experts. However, there are few people involved on such committees and in museums. For example, there are only dozens of members in Beijing Cultural Relics Authentication Committee, and they are entrusted by certain cultural relics departments to determine the authenticity of cultural relics collected in museums or unearthed recently. Therefore, it is impossible for these top experts to assist private collectors.

Ma suggest the authentication teams in specialized museums restructure the bank of talents, along with the technology, equipment and collections in museums so as to meet the great social demand.

Beijing Zhongrun Cultural Relics Authentication Center, with shares held by the Capital Museum, has been set up as China's first cultural relics authentication enterprise.

It is no easy task for cultural relics collectors to learn how to determine authenticity, but it is possible for them to know some basic knowledge in this field, Ma said. The seminars on cultural relics collection during May Day holiday attracted more audiences than expected. The Museum Section under the Beijing Administration of Cultural Heritage said that they will hold such seminars at irregular intervals in the future.

(www.china.org.cn by Xiao Li 05/25/2001)

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