In October 2000, with the assistance
of Ms. Fan Dongqing (consultant of Christie's Inc.),
eChinaArt.com's CEO Yu Gan interviewed world's renowned
Chinese bronze expert and archaeologist Mr. Ma Cheng
Yuan in a middle town hotel of Manhattan, New York.
Mr. Ma is also the former
executive director of Shanghai Museum of China.
eCA: Mr. Ma, what is the direction of your
recent academic study?
Ma: My recent focus is Chinese ancient bronze
and ancient characters, especially the Bamboo Slips
and text. During the last three years, I have laid
particular emphasis on the ancient characters study,
for instance, bronze text and the bamboo text of Warring
State Period. In 1994 Shanghai Museum acquired a large
group of Bamboo Slips of the Warring State Period
from Hong Kong with the assistance of local friends,
which totaled 1,200 pieces and over 3,500 characters.
Most of those ancient texts are scarce and thus precious
in the world. We now know those are actually widely
used text in Chu prior to the dynasty of Emperor Qin,
the first emperor in China's 5,000 history.
eCA: This is a tremendous discovery and great
achievement to China's history, literature and archeology.
Ma: It is. As we all know, ancient texts are
numbered, mainly because Emperor Qin adopted "Burn
Books and Kill Intellectuals" policy. Books, to be
exact, Bamboo Slips, were usually buried with deceased
celebrities during that time. Anyway, those returned
texts have raised a lot of new questions to us and
is definitely a big plus to our academic study such
as ancient Chinese Philosophy, History, Literature
and even Geology. We are exploring those Bamboo Slips
Texts and the ever-discovered contents. Now the world
is looking at us. We plan to publish our findings
and those marvelous collections starting from next
eCA: How many events will be held in Shanghai
Museum in 2000 and 2001?
Ma: We've set up a general direction, that
is, every year the Museum will present an activity
from minorities. For instance, now we have archaeology
exhibitions from Xin Jiang and Mongol. Next year we
will hold exhibition from Tibet. To promote these
great events, we also invited foreign archaeologists
and researchers to join the program. Before, it was
difficult to expose minorities' findings to the West
due to inconvenient transportation and culture difference.
Now it is a big improvement for both minority archaeology
activity and international professionals. We are going
to offer as much assistance as possible for the experts
who want to explore findings in those areas.
eCA: Can you tell us the main purpose of your
US trip this year?
Ma: This year there is a Music and Art exchange
program between the US and China. In China, this March,
we presented an exhibition called "Old Music but New
Tone" in Shanghai. To do that, we collected ancient
music instruments from all over the country. Plus,
we hosted an international seminar to evaluate and
summarize the event. In Shanghai Opera House, there
was also an Ancient Music Performance, which made
a sensation throughout the event. On US side, several
days ago (September 16, 2000) there was a similar
exhibition at Sackler and Freer Museum in Washington
DC. It also hosted a seminar and performance called
"Music in the Age of Confucius" which attracted over
300 experts and collectors to participant. I addressed
a speech at the seminar and that's my main purpose
of US trip.
eCA: What were your key points of the speech?
Ma: My topic was "Music for Poetry: A Fourth-
or Third-Century B.C. Bamboo Text". Those Bamboos
recorded some unknown sections that we haven't figured
out before, for instance, "Gao" is a chapter of poetic
performance which is composed of 9 notes and 13 pitches.
We used to study serials bells by its shape, sound
and veins when we study ancient Chinese music. However,
nobody knows what exactly formed those characters.
Now we have the results from the Bamboo Slips that
will tell us many things and events in their time,
and this is a breakthrough. I'm trying to translate
these new discoveries to our modern people. It was
always difficult to explain the characteristics of
ancient music because it was spread by sound not text.
What we discovered was "Pitch" of Chu music recorded
on those Bamboo Slips. This is an important finding.
I used some transparencies in the speech and the audience
eCA: Can you tell us some details?
Ma: The titles of poems are all very simple
and popular. Some of poems are like love songs and
used to be excluded from traditional chapters and
collections. For instance, one poem portrays a woman
expresses her deep admiration to her husband. The
rhythm is quick and light, just like pops now, such
as "Everything about my husband is lovable", "Why
didn't you listen to me", and "your longings for me",
eCA: Mr. Ma, if I comprehend right, you act
as a great translator. You translate those Bamboo
Slips Texts from ancient into modern. The role you
play has contributed a lot to the culture exchange
between East and West. Millions of Chinese who live
oversees also benefit substantially from you works.
Ma: That's my job and pleasure.
eCA: Mr. Ma, you are the world renowned expert
of Chinese bronze. Could you tell us some information
about the trading market, especially the auction market
for Chinese bronze?
Ma: Auction itself is a culture. The buyers
from West and East are eager to collect Chinese antiques
and bronzes. They try to comprehend China's history,
art and culture by studying those antiques and bronzes.
Culture is a universal phenomenon without national
boundaries. However, the ownership and cultural exchange
is a different issue. It belongs to economic category.
In the past, a large amount of Chinese antiques have
drifted into the other countries and has formed a
unique culture after many years of trading in the
auction market, and the auction market is a special
stage for this kind of culture. My big concern is
those recently lost antiques. We should not allow
this happen again.
eCA: That's actually my next question. How
do you feel about this?
Ma: Negative. I mean it will hurt our antiques
and the reputations of our country. Those Bamboos
is a good example. The reason for this situation is
we didn't have auction in the past and the West did.
Therefore, our antiques flowed away through different
channels. For instance, Hong Kong has a big antique
market. Hundreds of antique shops crowded on two or
three streets, which are full of, lost Chinese antiques.
In the USA and Europe, there are also lots of people
own many of those national-level antiques. We feel
deep regret for our huge losses. Those markets have
some very precious antiques that our national museums
don't. Recently, we have taken back some lost antiques
because of the great support from the Chinese national
and local government. For bronze, we regained two
hundred pieces that are all the top-level collections.
Recently, our country lost some very valuable antiques
and treasures. For the economic sake, some people
ignore the nation's law to illegally export antiques
to abroad. We lost too much good things, and we should
not allow this happen again. On the other hand, although
many valuable antiques are spread through oversees,
there are still tons of fakes in the market. It is
necessary to set up a non-profit organization that
helps collectors and buyers appraise the antiques
and offer suggestions.
eCA: Thanks so much for your time and support.
eChinaArt will make more efforts on the presentation
and promotion of our Chinese antiques.