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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Fei cui (imperial green jade), esteemed for its "virtue, beauty, and rarity," obsessed the Emperor Qianlong (173696). Thereby hangs a tale of passion and loss -- and, more recently, of bloodshed and looting. Qianlong's discovery of a huge fei cui bowl from Kublai Khan's reign (125994) drove him to dispatch armies 3,000 miles to mountainous, steamy Burma, demanding "tributes" of fei cui from the mines of the "Southern Barbarian" king. He won his tribute. He did not win the delectable Xiang from far-western Kashgar but immortalized his unrequited love in commissioning the famous "Persian Pepper" fei cui pendant.
In chronicling jade and the pendant's fate, Levy and Scott-Clark offer an exhilarating account of Chinese history and Western barbarism. Highlights include the Taiping Rebellion, the destruction of the Summer Palace, the Boxer Uprising, the sack of the Forbidden City, and the collapse of the Qing dynasty (despite arch-survivor Empress Cixi). Throughout the years, Western diplomats, army personnel, and civilians constantly looted priceless fei cui prayer tablets, memorials, and jewelry.
By the 1920s, vandals and vulgarians had reduced fei cui to a mere commodity -- jewelry or cash. Worse followed. The authors' account of current jade-mining operations in remotest Burma is astonishing, as was their danger-fraught expedition there. A few honorable dealers and collectors redeem fei cui's tragic history; a few distinguished museum collections hint at lost treasures.
The seasoned investigator-authors provide a gripping blend of history and adventure. Vignettes depict valiant explorers, dubious colonials, military geniuses, eunuchs, and survivors. Among them are the Big Barbarian (Lord Elgin), the Fragrant Consort, King Thibaw and the Murderous Queen, "Curio Chang," the Soong sisters, the nefarious Cixi, and the inimitable Sir Edmund Backhouse (a.k.a. the Hermit of Peking) and his remarkable coterie. An extensive bibliography provides for further exploration of this little-known but engaging topic. (Peter Skinner)
Peter Skinner lives in New York City.