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Experts On The Take: Dissecting A Chinese Penchant For Fraud In High Places

Essay: Widespread allegations in China of corruption among experts in the antique business is a metaphor for a society where the highest forms of knowledge have become a means to an end.

Forbidden City's Palace Museum (beltzner)
Forbidden City's Palace Museum (beltzner)
Wu Yue Sanjen

BEIJING - The "Jade dress' is an object that existed in the ancient burial rituals of China. Yes, the armor-like gold-threaded jade dress was a favorite outfit for the dead. It was said to be capable of preventing the corpse from corruption, and was a privilege naturally reserved only for the rich and nobility.

Occasionally, parts and bits as such dresses are found in the antique market, but rarely is a complete dress to be seen, nor is it likely to reach an ordinary collector's hand.

In a recent trial of a bank loan fraud case, XIE Genrong, the boss of Beijing Yanshan Group, is alleged to have illegally obtained 700 million RMB of loans from the China Construction Bank over the past three years. According to the investigation, Xie used two burial jade dresses as collateral, declaring them to be priceless items from his own collection.

The whole story turned out to be a hoax. The so-called jade dresses were in fact made by Niu Fu Zhong, an expert for both a Beijing TV program called "Treasures of the World," and an independent center for the identification of artifacts. The dress was made using pieces of jade that were provided by Xie Genrong himself.

And why did the bank believe in the credibility of Xie? Simply because these two dresses had been certified by five experts from the Palace Museum, and estimated at an astronomical value of 2.4 billion RMB. These five experts were engaged by Niu, and as a reward they shared hundreds of thousands of appraisal fees.

Now years have passed and the whole thing has been revealed to the public. One of the five experts has died, so naturally the other four have directed all responsibility on their dead colleague. They say they simply had confidence in his opinion. This is as shameless as one can imagine.

It's well known that the antique business is a tricky one. It's like deep-water ocean dive. There is no lack of unscrupulous so-called experts willing to come out with unreliable assertions. Even if one has bought something fake, as long as you can find an expert to identify the object as a genuine one, then worthless junk can turn to priceless treasure.

Among all the experts, the specialists from the National Palace Museum are, of course, considered the most reliable. People are easily impressed by the name "Palace Museum" and imagine that these people are experienced and knowledgeable, and beyond reproach.

In a normal society, an expert is someone who is respected and who uses his expertise to give advice -- and thus enjoys his social status. Professionalism and reputation are their life, as well as the very reason why people are willing to pay them. So they cherish their honor.

Yet in China, calling someone an expert is like cursing him. Not that they are not specialized enough, but because too many of them abuse their reputation and credibility in blatantly misidentifying fakes.

Drunk with knowledge

And the abuse of power of expertise is hardly limited to cultural artifacts. Whenever some social issue occurs, there are always experts even eager to provide the necessary window dressing for the institutions in power.

What is puzzling is that in other places knowledge is what makes people sober. Knowledge enables the one who masters it to draw a clear boundary of his behavior, to make him conscious of basic intellectual and academic integrity, to prevent him from misbehaving. This is precisely like a well-trained martial arts expert, who learns to restrain himself to avoid acting recklessly.

Only one condition makes one give up such constraint. It is when the knowledge itself is not what one pursues, but as a means for unscrupulously achieving profit.

Why does this happen in China? Because in our society, authority is being transformed into authoritarianism. And the authoritarianism in turn is used for profit-making. It has neither control, nor consent; and as a consequence, it needs not be responsible for the knowledge itself.

From the top to the bottom, this is the norm of Chinese society today.

When the authority has to prove its legitimacy, it must kidnap other forces to act as its endorsement. As the proverb says: if the rumor needs denying, it must be true. This is almost a metaphor, a microcosm of the defeat of social values.

When the most credible and reputable lose the public's confidence, when the experts become the white gloves covering the filth of institutions or counterfeiters themselves, this society naturally loses its most basic function of ensuring justice.

Many events that have happened in recent years demonstrate that the people or institutions most trusted by the people to protect them are actually the cause of the disasters.

However gorgeous it may be, the jade dress remains an object for a dead body. However stunning the expert's title may be, when abused it will just turn itself into something foul.

Read the original article in Chinese

Photo - beltzner

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Vulnerable Are The Russians In Crimea?

Ukraine has stepped up attacks on the occupied Crimean peninsula, and Russia is doing all within its power to deny how vulnerable it has become.

Photograph of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with smoke rising above it after a Ukrainian missile strike.

September 22, 2023, Sevastopol, Crimea, Russia: Smoke rises over the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters after a Ukrainian missile strike.

Kyrylo Danylchenko

This article was updated Sept. 26, 2023 at 6:00 p.m.

Russian authorities are making a concerted effort to downplay and even deny the recent missile strikes in Russia-occupied Crimea.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Media coverage in Russia of these events has been intentionally subdued, with top military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov offering no response to an attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, or the alleged downing last week of Russian Su-24 aircraft by Ukrainian Air Defense.

The response from this and other strikes on the Crimean peninsula and surrounding waters of the Black Sea has alternated between complete silence and propagating falsehoods. One notable example of the latter was the claim that the Russian headquarters building of the Black Sea fleet that was hit Friday was empty and that the multiple explosions were mere routine training exercises.

Ukraine claimed on Monday that the attack killed Admiral Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored," the Ukrainian special forces said via Telegram.

But Sokolov was seen on state television on Tuesday, just one day after Ukraine claimed he'd been killed. The Russian Defense Ministry released footage of the admiral partaking in a video conference with top admirals and chiefs, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, though there was no verification of the date of the event.

Moscow has been similarly obtuse following other reports of missiles strikes this month on Crimea. Russian authorities have declared that all missiles have been intercepted by a submarine and a structure called "VDK Minsk", which itself was severely damaged following a Ukrainian airstrike on Sept. 13. The Russians likewise dismissed reports of a fire at the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, attributing it to a mundane explosion caused by swamp gas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refrained from commenting on the military situation in Crimea and elsewhere, continuing to repeat that everything is “proceeding as planned.”

Why is Crimea such a touchy topic? And why is it proving to be so hard to defend?

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