Tuesday, June 28, 2011

SAFE President Curates Show of "Stolen" Chinese Art?

Saving Antiquities for Everyone has championed the return of artifacts to China that were removed from the country during periods of turmoil.

So I find it a bit odd that SAFE's President has curated a show at the Rubin Museum comprised of art some repatriationists might consider "stolen." See

One wonders if the art in question was legally exported from China based this description of its transit from the country:

Leaving China with 20 trunks full of scrolls, manuscripts and skins of exotic animals like golden monkeys, pandas and snow leopards was tricky for Mr. Roosevelt due to the war then being waged between China and Japan; his exit was made possible through a family connection to a certain W. Langhorne Bond, then vice president of the Chinese National Airline; Mr. Roosevelt flew disguised as a steward.

I also find it refreshing that its removal is justified as an act of saving it from likely destruction from the depredations of the Chinese Communists and Japanese Militarists, but don't SAFE members criticize collectors and museums for making such arguments?

In any event, I wonder if Ms. Ho demanded that the Roosevelt family show her export certificates before she decided to curate the show....

Addendum: This post evidently struck a nerve (see comments). There is also a question whether China's 1935 Antiquities law applied to the Naxi artifacts in question as artifacts of "other cultures" that may not be sold to "aliens." I copy it below in full. The reader can judge for themselves:

Enacted by the Legislative Yuan and
Promulgated by the National Government on June 2, 1930.
Amended on November 10, 1935.

Article 1. The term "relics" as denoted in this Law shall mean those related to archaeology, science of history, palaeontology and other cultures.

The sphere and categories of aforesaid
relics shall be determined by the Central Relics Custodian Commission.

Article 2. Except for those privately-owned, relics shall be preserved under the custody of offices to be specially assigned by the Central Relics Custodian Commission.

Article 3. Photographs of lasting nature of relics which are preserved in the following offices shall be taken by the custodian offices and deposited separately with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Interior, the Central Relics Custodian Commission and the office in which such
relics are preserved:

1) The institution directly under the jurisdiction of the central government.

2) The provincial, municipal, hsien, or other local institution.

3) The monasteries or temples or at the places where the ancient remains are located.

Article 4. Offices having custody of relics shall anually submit tables and reports to the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Interior, Central Relics Custodian Commission and local administrative authorities concerned. Forms of aforesaid tables and reports shall be proscribed by the Central Relics Custodian Commission.

Article 5. Privately-owned important relics shall be registered with the local administrative authorities concerned who shall, in turn, collectively report to tte Ministry of Edu:ation, Ministry of Interior and Central Relics Custodian Commission. The standard of the important relics abovementioned shall be determined by the Central Relics Custodian Commission.

Article 6. Privately-owned relics aforesaid that should be registered shall not be transferred to aliens. Offenders shall be liable to the confiscation of their relics and required to pay their cost if confiscation is not feasible.

Article 7. Relics hidden underground and those exposed above the ground shall be reverted to the State. Upon discovery of aforesaid relics, those who discovered such shall immediately report to the local administrative authorities concerned who shall request, through their superior authorities, the Ministries of Education and Interior and the Central Relics Custodian Commission to take over such relics, for which appropriate reward shall be granted. Whoever conceals such relics without reporting shall be dealt with as in the offences of theft.

Article 8. The excavation of relics shall be executed by academic institutiins directly under the central or local governments. For the excavation of relics, an academic institution aforesaid shall ask the Central Relics Custodian Commission to examine its application and to request the Ministries of Education and Interior to jointly issue an excavation permit.

Whoever excavates without the sforesaid permit shall be dealt with as in the offences of theft.

Article 9. Organic regulations of the Central Relics Custodian Commission shall be drawn up separately.

Article 10. Any academic institution directly under the central or a local government which requires the participation and assistance of any foreign academic organization or specialized
personnel in the excavation of relics shall request for prior approval of the Central Relics Custodian Commission.

Article 11. The excavation of relics shall be carried out under the supervision of officers of the Central Relics Custodian eommission.

Article 12. With respect to the relics procured from excavation, academic institutions directly under the central or local governments shall, subject to the approval of the Central Relics Custodian Commission, assume responsibility for the preservation, for a designated period, of the relics for academic research purposes.

Article 13. The circulation of relics shall be limited within the country. Eowever, if any academic institution directly under the central or local government finds it necessary to send its officers to bring relics abroad for research purposes, it shall apply for the authorization
of the Central Relics Custodian Commission who shall request the Ministries of Education and Interior to jointly issue an export permit. Relics brought abroad shall be returned to the
original custodien offices within two years, at the latest.

The provisions of the foregoing two paragraphs shall be applicable to privately-owned relics of which registration is required.

Article 14. The date of enforcement of the present Law shall be designated by mandate.

Addendum II:

I received the below letter from Ms. Roussin, a lawyer associated with SAFE. Here is my response. Her letter is further below:

Ms. Roussin- The blog posting you reference did not indicate I thought the material was stolen; it indicated that under various theories espoused by SAFE members it could be deemed stolen. The reference to the exit of the material was taken from a Newspaper article that was used as publicity for the show. I’ve already given Ms. Ho an opportunity to post a response to the blog. I have no objection to posting this letter as well. I’m sure you agree that the reader can draw their own conclusions. Best regards, Peter Tompa

As an additional note, rereading my original blog, it only referenced repatriationists considering such material stolen. I certainly don't personally believe the artifacts were stolen and am happy that they were put on display. The point here which Ms. Roussin apparently chooses to ignore is that SAFE's President and her organization should be as chartiable to other collectors as she has been to Mr. Roosevelt's collecting.

In any event, here is the letter:

Dear Mr. Tompa,

Various statements entitled "SAFE President Curates Show of "Stolen" Chinese Art?" published by you on your blog Cultural Property Observer of June 28, 2011 concerning the exhibition "Quentin Roosevelt's China: Ancestral Realms ofthe Naxi," now on display at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York, are false and close enough to defamation of character to be actionable. I demand that you remove the entire post and all comments that are displayed on your blog in response to your post immediately.

Phrasing your statement - suggesting that objects now owned by members of the Roosevelt family, on exhibit at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, the Harvard Yenching Library and other institutions, and now on display at the Rubin Museum were somehow "stolen" is blatantly false. Your statement on your blog is false and was published by you with the obvious intent of injuring another person's reputation and without regard for the true facts, which you could have easily discovered by viewing the exhibition, or by reading the exhibition catalogue, or by consulting other published works that are referenced in the exhibition catalogue.

Rather than visit the exhibition, or consult the exhibition catalogue or other published works referenced therein, your sole source appears to be a false statement published in The New York Observer. The statement you quote - "Leaving China with 20 trunks full of scrolls, manuscripts and skins of exotic animals like golden monkeys, pandas and snow leopards was tricky for Mr. Roosevelt due to the war then being waged between China and Japan; his exit was made possible through a family connection to a certain W. Langhorne Bond, then vice president of the Chinese National Airline; Mr. Roosevelt flew disguised as a steward."- is false in four ways as follows.

Roosevelt's departure from China in 1939 was not "tricky," no airplane was involved, Roosevelt did not leave China posing as a steward, and W. Langhorne Bond played no part whatsoever. Roosevelt and his 20 suitcases departed Lijiang after 10 days of collecting Naxi artifacts, and traveled to Kunming in a motor coach provided by the head of the Southwest Transportation Company, Mr. T.L. Soong, who was the
brother of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, the "first lady" of China. From Kunming, Roosevelt continued south to Haiphong on the Yunnan-Vietnam Railway in a private railroad car provided by a Mr. Patou, who was the head of railway. From Haiphong, Roosevelt continued on by steamer to Hong Kong, where he and his 20 suitcases boarded a ship called the Empress of China and sailed to San Francisco. See Martin Brauen, "A Memorable Journey to the Naxi: Quentin Roosevelt's Legacy," in Quentin Roosevelt's China: Ancestral Realms of the Naxi, 2011, page 36, and Quentin Roosevelt, "In the Land of the Devil Priests," in Natural History, April 1940, pages 208-209. These are the real facts that readers will find in the exhibition catalogue; the story that appears in The New York Observer, which you repeat in your blog post, is false, as the posted comments from Cindy Ho indicates.

The question you raise about "export certificates" for the Naxi objects that Quentin Roosevelt acquired in 1939 is answered by the very 1930 law that you quote in your revised blog post as well as the objects on display at the exhibition and various references in the exhibition catalog. The 1930 Relics Preservation Law, amended in 1935, governed the export of ancient objects, not objects made during the 19th and 20th centuries. Every Naxi object acquired by Quentin Roosevelt in 1939, and every Naxi object on display at the Rubin Museum, with one exception, dates from the 19th or 20 century, the sole exception being a scroll that Quentin Roosevelt's father acquired in China in 1928, two years before the law you cite was enacted. (See Martin Brauen, ibid., page 28). Therefore, no export certificate was required for anything on display at the exhibition. It is worth noting that prior to embarking on his l O-day collecting trip to Lijiang, Quentin Roosevelt met in Chongqing with Dr. H.H. Kung, President of the Executive Yuan that enacted the law you cite. Roosevelt's letters of introduction made the purpose of his trip clear. After that meeting in Chongqing. Dr. Kung promised Roosevelt safe passage through the restricted Yunnan regions. General Sze Hwa, a garrison commander for the northwestern frontier of Yunnan Province, and 40 armed Chinese soldiers accompanied Roosevelt to Lijiang. (See Martin Brauen, ibid., pages 32-34). Your suggestion that Roosevelt somehow "stole" Naxi objects under these circumstances is absurd. Your suggestion that curators of the Rubin Museum exhibition did not perform due diligence in this matter is damages their reputation and is
defamatory. and must be removed from your blog.

Finally, the organization SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone had no part in the research, planning and development or any other curatorial interest in the Rubin Museum exhibition. Therefore SAFE's position on Chinese or any other antiquities is irrelevant, and use of the organization's name is an egregious error at best. In any case, your characterization of SAFE's position is incorrect; SAFE's position on these matters, which has not changed since its inception, can be found at http://www.savingantiquities.org/principles.php

Please inform me and SAFE president Cindy Ho when you have corrected or removed this posting.
Lucille A. Roussin


Wayne G. Sayles said...

I guess philosophy and ethics have their limits.


Your statement "Saving Antiquities for Everyone has championed the return of artifacts to China that were removed from the country during periods of turmoil." is false. SAFE takes positions, where appropriate, on the repatriation of antiquities looted or smuggled after the enactment of the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Before you draw any conclusions about "Quentin Roosevelt's China, Ancestral Realms of the Naxi" I invite you to become familiar with the exhibition, the catalog and the symposium. Nothing was stolen, "stolen" or exported illegally.

On this page, you can see symposium presentations and interviews with experts from China, including a ceremony performed by a priest who came to New York to bless the museum. They would not have participated if what you said were true.

The catalog includes a detailed account of Roosevelt's 1939 trip when he acquired these 18th to 20th century religious artifacts (not antiquities or archaeological material) on behalf of several U.S. institutions. He recorded them in meticulous detail, including the time, place, circumstances, and prices paid. Roosevelt's trip to China was also widely publicized (eg. Life magazine), and he was welcomed by Chinese officials who facilitated his travel to study and acquire the artifacts. Some of this documentation, including his Harvard thesis, is on display at the exhibition.

There is nothing more to say about this here beyond what is already in the exhibition, catalog and the symposium. Your insinuations are baseless and not worthy of any further response.

Cindy Ho
President, SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone

Cultural Property Observer said...

Ms. Ho, thank you for your response, but I recall during the run up to the China MOU much blather that China's patrimony was stolen by foreigners while the country was weak. My recollection was that this was at least referenced by SAFE members in their written or oral testimony. I'm glad Mr. Roosevelt kept records of what he paid for pieces, but I'm not sure this establishes that they were not "stolen" under some of the theories posited by the archaeological community. Also, I'm not sure there is any distinction between archaeological artifacts and religious ones as far as the law is concerned. Can you publish any export permits provided for such material as proof that responsible Chinese officials approved of Mr. Roosevelt's activities? If you can't perhaps your organization can give other collectors the same pass you are giving Mr. Roosevelt.

Paul Barford said...

" "stolen" under some of the theories posited by the archaeological community".
What "theories" would they be? And are they posited by the entire "community" or just individuals within it? Where?

"blather" is blather but as you and your fellows have consistently argued, the law is the law, so please instead of a series of insinuations and cheap 'gottchas', can a cultural property lawyer provide some firm information?

What precise law of the Republic of China in force at the time do you consider would have been broken by the removal of these items? (Or do you propose applying that of 1950 in retrospect?) Also- vis a vis Sayles' comment, what geographical limits applied to the region covered by any such laws at the time of the removal of this collection?

Are you seriously postulating that the President's grandson (and US World War 2 hero) was a common thief?

Cultural Property Observer said...

Under theories posited by the archaeological community aren't artifacts that are exported without permits stolen? Shouldn't Ho have informed us in her write up of the collection whether any due diligence was done about Chinese law at the time and whether any export certificates or formal permissions were received? And how about artifacts removed by Westerners from China during times of turmoil, like those famous fountain heads? Or, how about religious artifacts from Africa or Cyprus? Are there no parallels? And now that you mention it, what about your own Japanese prints? Did the Japanese Authorities ever get back to you? This post is about hypocrisy from the likes of SAFE and nothing more.

Paul Barford said...

Well, you did not answer the questions (any of them).
I asked which specific (and whose) "theories" you invoke and which laws were - in your opinion - broken.

Please give the details of the export licencing laws you say were applicable to these specific objects at the time of their removal from China.

To what due diligence are you referring here? The original buyer or the displaying museum? I think Ms Ho has answered both pretty well.

Instead of cheap "gottcha", how about some legal substance here?

[I'll post up a reply to your attempts to discredit me about the prints when I have time. You will not like it].

Cultural Property Observer said...

I merely suggest that if Ms. Ho is apparently so unconcerned with Mr. Roosevelt's collecting strategies that she did not publish information about whether any due dilligence was done or whether she did her own due dilligence before she undertook this project (presumably for pay) perhaps SAFE should also consider giving collectors a break. I could do all the research you ask, but I'm afraid I'd have to charge for it and I'm not sure you would pay.

Paul Barford said...

"I merely suggest [...] perhaps SAFE should also consider giving collectors a break."
Collectors of what? Chinese folk art and antiques? Can you point out where SAFE has been hounding them with gottchas?

I think there is a considerable difference between what is in that exhibition and the freshly "surfaced" dug up archaeological finds with which SAFE and its members are concerned.

"I could do all the research you ask, but I'm afraid I'd have to charge for it and I'm not sure you would pay".
You are right, I do not need to pay you to confirm that there is no such law applicable to this material and your insinuations are baseless. But thank you for confirming that you did not do any such research before writing what you did. As I said, "blather" is blather and the law is the law, and it seems you did not ascertain the latter before committing your thoughts to paper.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Since Barford presses, China's 1935 law may potentially apply to the Naxi material. That law seems to preclude transfer of relics of "other cultures" to "aliens." Did Ms. Ho do the "due dilligence" SAFE demands of others before lending her name to this project? And can we be all that sure the Naxi themselves would have been happy this material was removed at the time, though it now turns out that it resulted in allowing this material to be saved?

David Ian said...

I merely suggest you stop talking about things you know nothing about and quit extorting money from someone else rather than use the opportunity to learn something before attacking others. You are not only looking small, but foolish and insecure. It's obvious that all this repetitive goading is not going to bring you what you want. One could have a bit more respect for you but you've gone too far. But after all this, NO ONE cares anymore, you have successfully turned off anyone who might be interested in what you have to say. You have shamed those who take numismatics seriously. You should consider this a friendly suggestion.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Well, this has apparently struck a nerve.

Let's sum up. Ho, President of SAFE, an advocacy organization that lectures collectors and museums of the importance of undertaking due diligence about the law and provenance of artifacts has curated a show (for a fee?) without evidently undertaking her own due diligence about the law in China at the time and whether the Naxi approved of Mr. Roosevelt's collecting their cultural patrimony. Ho protests that SAFE only takes a concrete position on archaeological artifacts with no provenance before 1970. But on occasion, SAFE has also been supportive of the return of other artifacts that are not archaeological or were removed from their country of origin before 1970 (Chinese bronze animal heads, African art). Barford and friend seem more focused on insults than anything else, but seem to suggest that Ho had no duty of due diligence before she undertook her curating activities. They also claim that the artifacts were not covered under Chinese law, but China's 1935 law may indeed be applicable. It covers artifacts from "other cultures" and bars their sale to "aliens." Barford claims the law does not apply, but is that all that clear?

What is clear that these self-appointed cultural property moralists protest too much. Why can't they just give other collectors the same pass they give Mr. Roosevelt?

I will publish no more comments from Mr. Barford and Ian on this subject. Others may feel free to comment provided they provide something new.