Detail of "Self-Portrait in the Yellow Mountains".
Contemporary Chinese artist Zhang Daqian
was a forger before he was a legitimate artist.
Giving and receiving valuable artwork and artifacts is a way for businessman to bribe each other in China without cash being exchanged. It's been occurring since the Ming Dynasty.
Apart from appreciation and investment, it might be an alien concept for laymen outside the Chinese system that one of the most essential functions of art works is corruption. The concept of “elegant bribery”, or Yahui in Chinese, refers to the action and process of a systematic corruption that only involves cultural products and artefacts: antiques, rare plants, paintings and calligraphy as a medium of the crime. Art works, in particular, have become no more than tools of corruptions among officials, merchants, art dealers and sometimes even artists.If anyone is caught, they can always claim the work was fake and isn't actually valuable, which of course means that they're not guilty of bribery, since the "bribe" was only a token gift.
There's a long tradition of artists forging other works, so these claims are credible.
This underground market of bribery creates some interesting scenarios:
- A fake painting can be passed off as real, and it maintains the status of an expensive gift through many cycles of giving and receiving.
- A real painting can be passed off as fake, and later sold by the "bribee" at the correct, higher price.
- A painting can be given as a gift, and an associate of the briber shows up later to pay the owner a huge amount of money.
- A corrupt auction house"proves" that a fake painting is real via false documents and scholarly analysis. The painting is given as a bribe. Later, when the painting is auctioned off, an associate of the briber buys the painting.