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Another Four-part Blog For Halloween and After

 Another Four-part Blog For Halloween and After

Part 1: Follow-up on song published at end of previous blog: I printed out there the song, set to the tune of the Major General’s song from Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance,” composed for my colleague and friend David Keightley’s 80th birthday celebratory dinner last Saturday evening. And I mentioned what a pleasure it is to devise the tri-syllabic rhymes that the song demands. Thinking about that took me back nearly seventy years to the time when I was in basic training in the Army, at Fort McClellan, Alabama, and expressed some of my negative feelings about what the Army (quite deliberately and necessarily) does to young men, penning some lines for a similar song, never finished, to be sung to the same tune. They are, like so much else of my literary past, in the CYCTIE (Ching Yuan Chai Treasury of Imperishable Ephemera) on this website under Writings of JC. But I will print them below to make them more easily accessible, while still recommending the CYCTIE to all who love funny verses and rhymes as I did and do. (Try reading just the “Sudden and Gradual Limericks” that make up the first item in it.) Here are the lines I wrote:

I am the very model of a modern U.S. fighting man,

I know a lot, although I'm not a thinking or a writing man;

I know the gory side of war, but little of the tactical,

My education's very short, and hor-i-bul-ly practical--

They feed me scientifically with vitamins and minerals,

They feed me just as well, they say, as four- and five-star ginerals,


I know the way to hide a truck by parking it below a tree,

And when I speak of Brownings I am not discussing poetry—


The trouble with all this is that I'm nothing but a war machine,

I steadily improve as I become less man and more machine—


(Unfinished. The “Browning” is of course the automatic rifle of that name, which we were being taught to aim and fire.)


Part 2: A Really New Scam! Long ago, I think it was in the 1970s, I received as a professor a longish letter (still sent by old-fashioned “snail” mail) from people announcing a grand conference--in Hong Kong, I think it was--on some all-embracing topic, to be held on a “non-participating basis”--you didn’t have to come, you just submitted your paper. I don’t recall details but assume that it would somehow be “read” there; and later they would publish a volume or volumes with all the papers. I wrote back congratulating them (ironically) on having invented what seemed to me a really new scam. “We send you our papers, pay you to publish them, then you sell the resulting volume(s) to libraries all over, as well as to the participants themselves--really the first truly original scam I’ve heard of for a long time!” It could have had a place in a book I was fond of then titled “The Big Con,” a book you should find and read it you haven’t already. (It was the basis for the memorable Newman/Redford film “The Sting,” which added Scott Joplin music as soundtrack at a time when it wasn’t widely known, and everybody went home with “The Entertainer” rag playing hauntingly over & over in her/his head and desperately wanting to hear it again--) Now, in an age when so much of what comes to us on the internet or in emails is a scam of some kind, this kind of academic-publication scam has reappeared and proliferated to become one of the frequent types. The “Conference” for which one is invited to submit abstracts and papers is now held, typically, at some place one hasn’t heard of (and is highly unlikely to go to) in Turkey, and the “publication” will be (needless to say) on the web. Great reduction in trouble and cost for the organizers, a kind of “publication” that can be cited in one’s bibliography for those foolish enough to take part. In this digital age, the lines between honest enterprise and scam, between some kind of reality and a sham existence out there in cyberspace, joins so much of the rest of our culture--including a lot of what’s being produced and reviewed as “art”--in a realm of semi-existence, non-corporeal evocations, quick comings-and-goings (with the goings usually more to be welcomed than the comings.) On the other hand, I will continue to try to call attention to worthwhile internet postings that I Iearn about, such as the following.

- Part 3: New Internet Posting of Meiren Prints: My friend Christer von der Burg, founder and president of the Muban Foundation in London that collects and studies Chinese woodblock printing, has begun to post on a new website some very interesting popular prints, made in Suzhou in the second half of the 18th century, representing beautiful women with children, some of them from his own collection and others from a castle in France (!). You will find them at:

He writes me, in response to a query of mine, that it’s OK to announce these on my own website, and send my readers/viewers to them, giving away the true identity of Mr. Chiwoopri (surname Nesedblocknt). The story he tells is fascinating, and the prints of some importance both for popular printmaking and for the big topic of Images of Women in Chinese Painting (and Printing). And I have a very minor role in his story, as the person who first noticed two of them hanging framed in the window of a Madison Avenue dealer’s shop and let him know about them. Julia White and I are not including prints in our forthcoming exhibition of meiren hua or beautiful-woman paintings, and the colors of these popular prints are so fugitive that it wouldn’t be good to expose them to light for a long time anyway. So go to this new website and enjoy them in large color reproductions, and read what Christer writes about them.

- Part 4: Latest News on “Riverbank”: It Appears In Shanghai, while Cahill Paragraphs About It Fail To Appear In Shanghai! The exhibition of “Masterpieces of Chinese Painting in U.S. Museums” that has just opened at the Shanghai Museum is made up of old and fine paintings--all except one--you guessed it, “Riverbank,” which is there again, no doubt looking as out-of-place as it did when it hung (was hanged?) in the National Palace Museum in Taipei alongside the great works of Fan Kuan, Guo Xi, and Li Tang. One begins to suspect a project, which we can call: Age and Importance Gained By Association. But wait! That’s not all! (as hucksters say on TV). A great story! As noted in previous blogs, I wrote an article to accompany the exhibition, as I did for the one two years ago in the same museum on early Chinese paintings from Japanese museums, and again it was to be published in the volume of essays presented at the opening symposium (which of course I can’t attend)--but also, just before the exhibition opens, in a big Shanghai newspaper, where it could be read by those going to the exhibition before or after they went. I agreed to requests from my contact at the Shanghai Museum, and also from an old friend who was acting as go-between, that the Dongfang Caobao (“Eastern Morning Post”) print it on the day before the exhibition opening. I told one of my correspondents about this, and he wrote back, after looking, that it wasn’t there--instead, what he found (and sent me to, with a website reference) was a page announcing papers to be delivered at the opening, including--surprise!--one by Wen Fong about why “Riverbank” is a fine antique painting, and not by Mr. Zhang. He associates it with a genuinely old Dong Yuan-style painting, the “Wintry Groves” in the old Kurokawa Collection in Ashiya, and sees them as earlier and later within the artist’s career! You can find it, if you want to, at:

So, I wrote my contact Lea at the Shanghai Museum, and also a colleague who was there: What happened to my article? And I got the news:  it was published in the newspaper, but not conspicuously--rather, tucked away where one is less likely to look. And, big surprise! It doesn’t appear completely, but only the opening pages--the whole was, they decided, too long to print there. My earlier essay, which they printed whole, was 21 typed English pages; this one was 29 typed English pages. And of these 29, they published only (the Chinese translation of) eight pages, stopping just short of--you guessed it--the long paragraphs I wrote about “Riverbank.”  (The part that was printed can be found, in Chinese, at:

The complete article, in both English and Chinese, will be published in the volume that contains also the papers given at the opening symposium; but this, I fear, may appear only after the exhibition has closed. So all the notes on the individual paintings that I wrote to provide viewers of the exhibition with more information about them and hints on what to look at in them, etc., may not be accessible to them while the paintings are there for them to see. A real loss; and for what reason? Because my article this time was 29 (English) pages, where the earlier one was 21--“too long” to be published in the daily paper ahead of the opening, to be read by everybody interested--only nine (English) pages printed there this time, stopping just short of “Riverbank”…

Am I old and foolish, to suspect that something akin to suppression occurred? Maybe--I’ve given the facts here, you can judge for yourselves. We are working to get the rest published soon--success or failure will be reported below. (I am writing this while being interrupted by costumed children ringing my doorbell to get their trick-or-treat candy.)

Later (10 PM): A reassuring email from my Shanghai Museum contact Lea, bless her, informs me that the book containing my essay in full will be printed and for sale in the gallery outside the exhibition and elsewhere while the show is still on; I was wrong in assuming that it would be published only after it’s over. She assures me that it will be bought and used by a lot of people. (Later: it’s selling so fast they are having trouble keeping it in stock.)  Also that the full essay will appear in Dongfang Caobao. So all the time I spent in gathering information about the paintings and writing out my views on them (and the views of others) wasn’t wasted, I feel much better. The trick-or-treaters have come and taken all the candy-bars I had for them, and I’ll go off to bed and read and sleep for a while.

Yours, James Cahill (October 31st, Halloween! And whose face would I carve in my pumpkin, were I carving a pumpkin, and had I the representational--portraiture--skills to do it? You guessed it!)

Still Later: Before I could post the above, the latest issue of Orientations magazine arrived, devoted to the Shanghai Museum’s sixtieth anniversary and its great exhibition. I haven’t read much in it yet, but have skimmed the article by Mike Hearn about the Met’s loans, ending with--you guessed it--That Painting, which he writes of as having a  “distinguished pedigree.” Augh! He must know that it has no pedigree at all, no plausible provenance, only that silly story about how Xu Beihong bought it from an unspecified source in some far-south place where no old paintings were ever found before, showed it to nobody for years, then gave it to his friend Zhang Daqian in return for a painting that he liked by Jin Nong (whose works are worth many times less.) And then Zhang didn’t show it to anybody for years either, until--and so forth. And as I wrote one of my correspondents about that “provenance,” “If you can believe that, I’ve got some great pre-Song paintings I’ll sell you.” To repeat once more my summation: If, in the field of European painting, a work ascribed to a little-understood old master in a style never seen before were to turn up in the hands of known master-forger, with no plausible provenance, no documentation, it would be laughed off the scene. Why are we in Chinese painting studies so gullible?

Also in this Orientations issue is an interview with Shan Guolin, longtime curator of Chinese paintings at the Shanghai Museum, in which Shan, once my good friend, now evidently appointed an Honorary Princetonian, writes that Professor James Cahill misjudged Riverbank because he “compared it with some Northern Song paintings and forgeries of Dong Yuan made by Zhang Daqian, and believed the painting showed similarities with Zhang’s technique. However, he did not talk about brush and ink, which are the crucial factors for Chinese painting.” Augh again! Has ever greater nonsense, and greater non-truth, been written? In the “Indictment in Fourteen Counts” that I delivered at the Met’s 1999 “Authenticity” symposium, an essay that has been published everywhere (including in  Chinese), Count 5 is: “Brushwork, or lack of it,” a long section in which I used some eight slide comparisons, details of “Riverbank” alongside those of truly old paintings, to illustrate my argument: that Zhang Daqian cleverly avoided conspicuous brushwork, visible brushstrokes, to satisfy the traditional Chinese connoisseur’s belief that these early paintings showed no brushwork of the kind that later paintings typically display. And I showed in the comparisons how Riverbank’s no-brushstroke drawing differed in important ways from that seen in genuinely old paintings. Shan knew this; why did he state such an obvious untruth? (Rhetorical question.)

And Later Still: News from Shanghai at last; a long email from my younger colleague Liu Heping, who was there delivering a paper himself, about the symposium. Too long to recount here. One whole session, the first, devoted to pro-Riverbank papers, including the one by Wen Fong (delivered by someone else) accepting that awkwardly-pasted-in “signature” and placing the work within the oeuvre of Dong Yuan (!)--how my old friend Mr. Zhang must be chuckling in the afterlife to see his handiwork so successfully duping so many people! Nobody involved in this session gave a paper recognizing it for what it really is. None of the paper-givers belong, it would appear, among those with good eyes and a good knowledge of early Chinese landscape style, all of whom have quickly seen through it--Hironobu Kohara, Sherman Lee, Rick Vinograd, Harrie Vanderstappen--and all of whom (quite independently of each other) ended up calling it a modern pastiche, which is what it is. And what it must eventually be universally recognized as being--there’s no way it can be accepted, in the end, as anything else, because you can’t, as the saying goes, make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Although old Mr. Zhang was adept at making silk somethings, not purses but paintings that enriched his own purse, out of the sow’s ears of artificially darkened and ripped silk. Some of these still hang on museum walls.

Yours again, James Cahill, this time writing on November 5th. Some time after tomorrow we will learn whether we are governed by a best-we-can-hope-for administration or a disastrous one. If the latter, what? I can’t join those people who say they will move to Canada if Romney-Ryan win; my house there has been sold. Maybe I’ll join a movement for having Northern California, perhaps along with Oregon and Washington, secede from the union to form a new country called Nocalorwash? (But that sounds like a merger of a no-cal drink company with a carwash.)

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