A tale of treach­ery and res­cue

Shanghai Daily - - NOW AND THEN - Zhu Ying ding he zun ge juan pan zun zun zun. zun zun zun,

Height: 33.7cm

Length: 58.7cm

Weight: 10.76kg

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.

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