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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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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