Understanding Authenticity in China’s Cultural Heritage
1: Modern Majiayao: Recreation, Imitation, Forgeries?
Friday, March 25, 2022
9:30am – 11:00am EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
University of Oxford, United Kingdom
The Neolithic painted pottery of the Majiayao style found in Northwest China is widely known for its high-level craftsmanship and aesthetic appeal. When the Swedish geologist Johan Gunnar Andersson commenced his field research in Gansu in the 1920s, conducting excavations but also offering to pay locals to bring him painted vessels of that style, he unwittingly caused a bout of looting as well as "enhancement" of undecorated pots with Majiayao-style motives by locals wishing to provide what the foreigner had asked for. While Andersson soon realized the issue and asked people to stop both practices, it had already become known that vessels of a certain appearance could fetch a good price. Decades later, when more systematic archaeological work in that region started - work which continues until the present day, though with various interruptions due to political upheaval, lack of funds, and other issues - soon local potters came up with a business idea. They started to create imitations for tourists to buy, and on occasion also made objects to order or copies of archaeological finds that they aged carefully. Based on interviews and observations conducted at various workshops in southeast Gansu, this paper explores concepts of authenticity, craftmanship, and cultural heritage as perceived, created, and recreated by modern potters living near archaeological sites. Simultaneously, the paper also considers the interplay between archaeological work and creation of a broad range of object types including souvenirs, imitations, copies, forgeries, and even entirely new artistic styles, interweaving the ancient and the modern.