A top-tier university in southwest China is investigating an allegation that many of the donated relics on display at its new museum are fakes.
Just a week after it opened, the Museum of Chongqing University was closed to the public on Tuesday after an article widely shared on social media accused it of spending more than 6 million yuan (US$847,500) to build a museum only to fill it with counterfeits, news website Thepaper.cn reported.
Security guards at the entrance said they did not know when the museum would reopen, while the university issued a statement on Weibo saying it was concerned about the claim and the findings of its investigation would be released as soon as possible.
Most of the collection was donated by Wu Yingqi, a 78-year-old artist in Chongqing who was deputy dean of the university's arts college more than a decade ago. His son, Wu Wenxia, is the curator of the new museum.
Wu Yingqi's daughter, Wu Xiaoni, told the website that her father was ill and being treated in hospital. He had been told about the allegation but declined to comment, saying he would respect the findings of the university's investigation, according to Wu Xiaoni.
She said her father had asked the university to appraise the collection before he donated it.
The collection - made up of 342 items - includes 22 bronze pieces, 161 porcelain relics and 159 jade artefacts, according to the university's website.
"These cultural relics have been examined by experts - more than 60 per cent of them are very valuable," the artist told local news site cqnews.net in February, when he made the donation. "I hope Chongqing University's new museum will be one of the top Chinese university museums."
But soon after they went on show, a collector - tipped off by others - visited the museum and made the claim in an article on WeChat that the artefacts were fake.
"All of the items on display that I saw there can't be authentic because of obvious flaws," the collector, who used the pseudonym Jiang Shang, told Thepaper.cn.
"These copies were not only made by people with shoddy skills, they also don't fit within the realms of what people would imagine are cultural relics … so even ordinary visitors can tell they are problematic," Jiang said.
In his article, Jiang gave the example of a bronze horse and cart that was said to have been discovered in Emperor Qin Shi Huang's tomb. According to Jiang, the relic was a fake because it had six horses pulling the cart - four at the front, two at the back - yet Chinese archaeologists agreed that emperors in the Qin and Han dynasties (221-207BC and 206BC-AD220) used only four horses for this purpose.
He also highlighted two bronze goose-fish lamps the display said dated back to the Han dynasty. Jiang noted that they were a metre tall - unlike several other ancient lanterns of this type on show at top museums in mainland China, which are all at about half a metre. The bronze geese all have their heads turned back and a fish in their mouths.
Another example was a small tortoise ornament said to be more than 2,000 years old. Jiang said the item, inset with gemstones, appeared to have been electroplated in gold.
A cultural relics expert described the exhibits as "absurd" after seeing the photos in Jiang's article.
"Many universities have been building their own museum collections in the past few years. It's a good phenomenon, but they need to follow strict standards," the expert, who declined to be named, told Thepaper.cn. "When they receive donations, the donated items must be appraised first. If something is found to be a fake, it should be left out."
But a professor from Chongqing University's arts college said Wu had made a generous donation.
"He donated these precious items he had collected over many years and received no reward for it. This deserves encouragement and praise," the academic was quoted as saying.
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