Truth or False: Dream of the Red Chamber and the Terra Cotta Warriors

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“When falsehood stands for truth, truth likewise becomes false.” — Cao Xueqin, Dream of the Red Chamber

A French author has challenged the authenticity of the Terra Cotta figures in Xi’an, suggesting that they were manufactured during the Cultural Revolution. These are “fighting words” to many.  What interests me is an excerpt from an on-line interview, which discussed his claim and other fakes:

 “[I]n 2011, a whole Monegasque show of luxury brands was duplicated in Shanghai. Even more surprising, in 2007, in Germany, the Hamburg’s Museum of Ethnology was forced to close down an exhibition of terracotta warriors; after investigating the authenticity of the statues, they were revealed to be fake. The Chinese authorities confirmed the deception and claimed the exhibition had been organized without their authorization. In a world dominated by brands and by the manufacture of material, spiritual or cultural products, could the false be ontologically inseparable from the authentic?”

I have no expertise in this area, other than to note that where counterfeiting is widespread, there can also be an underlying erosion in social trust and even in the national “brand” of China.   Is China’s culture of counterfeiting creating a paranoia in the West?  Cultural scholars aren’t the only skeptics.  Many visitors come back from China and generalize from counterfeit goods in the street to  empty “see through” buildings which suggest that China’s real estate boom and even economic growth are also fakes.

The interview notes that discriminating between fake and real has a long tradition in Chinese culture – from the ancient philosopher Zhuang Zi to Buddhist notions of illusion (maya), and the classic Qing dynasty novel, Dream of the Red Chamber, which involved two rival families – the Zhen family (a homonym with real) and the Jia family (a homonym with fake).  The quest for reality, or escape from illusion, is an underlying theme of that novel. 

Painting from Wikipedia, entry on Dream of the Red Chamber, by Sun Wen 孙温.

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