A tale of treachery and rescue
Period: Late Spring and Autumn Period (771-476 BC)
The a type of Chinese ritual bronze piece, is a wine vessel normally, either round or square. Sometimes, the vessels are in the shape of animals, like an ox, which came into fashion in the late Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC).
An ox-shaped held by the Shanghai Museum has a hollow belly and three holes on its neck, back and hip. In the middle hole, there is a removable potshaped container used to store wine.
Hot water can be poured through the other two holes into the hollow belly to warm the wine.
With short but muscular legs, a determined look, powerful and curved horns, and vivid patterns of coiled dragon-andsnake, tiger, rhinoceros and elephant, the buffalo-shaped vessel looks dignified and mysterious.
A big nose ring, which was called in ancient China, is installed through the nasal septum of the buffalo.
This indicates that the use of nose rings for domesticating cattle existed as early as in the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC).
It is a significant object for the study of China’s history of domesticating animals.
The bronze vessel was unearthed by a farmer named Gao Fengzhang in Liyu Village, Hunyuan County, Shanxi Province in 1923.
He and other villagers excavated over 60 exquisite bronze vessels in total, including (sacrificial vessels), (basins), (wine warmers), (daggeraxes) and swords.
The news spread quickly to Leon Wannieck, a French antique dealer, who was collecting ancient Chinese bronze vessels in north China at time.
He rushed to Liyu Village and bought more than 20 vessels.
Wannieck paid multiple visits to Gao’s house and bought several pieces from him.
But Gao refused to sell the ox-shaped
no matter how high the bid because, as a farmer, he had a special affection for cattle.
Shifting his strategy, Wannieck tried to cheat Gao, telling him it was inauspicious to store a bronze vessel that had been dug out of the ground at home, and it would bring calamity. Gao didn’t believe him and remained determined not to sell the ox-shaped
Unhappy, Wannieck sued the villagers for selling “fake” antiques to French dealers, but the genuine articles to locals. He also threatened to denounce the “devious means” Chinese officials dealt with foreigners to the Western media if the government refused his demands.
The local government used regulations concerning the protection of cultural relics as an excuse to fend Wannieck off. But their real motive was to hype the cultural relic, attract more dealers to bid up its price and earn profits for themselves.
It was sold to a local curio dealer at a very high price and was finally obtained by Lu Qinzhai, a notorious antiques smuggler. He had illegally sold at least 1,000 cultural relics overseas, according to the “National Treasure Archive.”
Two of the Six Steeds of the Zhao Mausoleum — famous stone reliefs of horses from the mausoleum of Emperor Taizong of Tang Dynasty (AD618-907), were on the list.
They were smuggled to the United States in 1916 and are now exhibited in the University of Pennsylvania’s museum.
Adopting the same strategy, the profiteer intended to sell the valuable ox-shaped overseas.
Passing through many places, it made its way to Shanghai where Lu planned to smuggle it out of the country by sea.
The news soon got around, outraging patriots and scholars.
Much ink has been spilled denouncing Lu since 1947. Facing a firestorm of condemnation, Lu decided to speed up the process of getting the out of the country.
He asked people to secretly pack the ox-shaped and other cultural relics and disguised the shipping boxes. Lu bought off some customs officers and falsely claimed the cargo was “replicas.” One day in July 1948, a large steamer carrying the national treasure was about to depart for America. Suddenly, several cars raced towards the wharf.
Getting out of the cars, inspectors from the Shanghai Museum, acting on a tip-off, asked the customs officers to unpack the contents of the shipment for another inspection.
They immediately confiscated the saving it for China at the last moment.
On December 21, 1952, the newly founded Shanghai Museum welcomed this special “resident.” Since then, the national treasure has become the centerpiece of the museum.
It is exhibited in the ancient Chinese bronze gallery on the first floor.