China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has popularized the slogan, the Chinese Dream, as a call for China to reclaim its ancient glory.
Part of all this, of course, is to highlight the importance of ancient Chinese artifacts not just through diplomatic efforts like this MOU, but through the creation of a vibrant internal collector’s market, including world class bourses like the Beijing International Coin Exposition and auction houses like China Guardian and Poly Auctions.
IAPN and PNG are all for the Chinese government encouraging China’s own people to collect, preserve, study and display ancient artifacts, particularly as common as ancient Chinese coins, which must exist in the billions. That certainly is much preferable to the ideologically motivated destruction of Chinese cultural heritage during the Cultural Revolution or, for that matter, the far more recent demolition of Christian Churches by China’s atheist government.
But given the reality of a huge, largely open internal Chinese market in common antiquities like pottery and coins, it’s a fair question to ask what is the real purpose of the import restrictions our State Department, presumably with the consent of CPAC, have imposed on American collectors, the small businesses of the antiquities and coin trade and museums?
Certainly, archaeologists have argued that import restrictions help drive potentially looted artifacts off the market, but such a claim makes little sense whatsoever given this huge internal Chinese market. Indeed, all that is really being accomplished is to give Chinese dealers, auction houses and collectors a leg up on their foreign, particularly American competition.
Does the Trump Administration really support such a state of affairs, particularly where the most successful Chinese antiquities sales outlets are controlled by insiders associated with the Chinese Government, like Poly Group controlled by the family of former leader Deng Xiaoping who also run a major weapons producer, and China Guardian Auctions, run by Chen Dongsheng, the grandson-in-law of the PRC’s founder, Mao Zedong? Let’s hope not.
There is also the issue of Chinese obligations under the current MOU. Several issues come to mind. First, China was supposed to make it easier to legally export artifacts, but that provision was drastically limited in the 2014 renewal to Chinese objects imported into China for re-export and there is no indication China has even complied with this weaker provision. Of course, few rules apply to the free ports of Hong Kong and Macao. China was also initially supposed to clamp down on them, but it has not. Instead, artifacts leaving these ports can still be re-imported into the PRC no questions asked.
Even more importantly for US coin collectors is the issue of Chinese fakes of historic US coins. As the letter submitted by our sister organization, ICTA, states, Chinese businesses licensed by the Chinese Government are counterfeiting untold thousands of fake historic US mint coins which are then being introduced into the US numismatic market. How can the US State Department countenance the renewal of a MOU when the PRC encourages the production of counterfeits that have damaged the American coin trade and which also represent a serious violation of US counterfeiting and hobby protection laws?
Finally, let’s talk more about Chinese coins currently on the designated list. The State Department and U.S. Customs have misapplied the CPIA’s requirement limiting any restrictions to artifacts “first discovered within” and “subject to the export control” of China. They have instead barred the import of any Tang Dynasty and earlier coins based on their place of production, which is entirely different.
One cannot safely assume any Chinese cash coins are only found where they were made. Scholarly evidence demonstrates that early cash coins like those on the designated list were exported in quantity with later issues all around the Far East and even as far West as Africa and the Arabian coast. Moreover, it is difficult for all but experts to tell restricted Tang and earlier Chinese cash coins from later unrestricted ones that were produced as late as 1911 or similar ones made in places like Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
The MOU with China should be suspended because it is doing nothing to actually protect Chinese archaeological sites, but at a minimum, Chinese cash coins, which exist in the billions and which are widely collected in China itself should be delisted.