Before they entered Rose's house, Du Dayuan handcuffed the briefcase onto his wrist, giving an impression of him being a very cautious person. He did not remove the handcuffs even after they entered the house.
Li Du prepared fruit juice and coffee for the guests and served them. He also took out the famille rose porcelain that he got from Page.
The three of them examined the porcelain ware. Each of them had one in their hand, carefully scrutinizing the piece of beautiful porcelain.
Hans looked on, hopefully awaiting their conclusion, whereas Li Du appeared to be nonchalant. This was because he had already known the porcelain ware were all imitations.
True enough, the three of them talked softly amongst themselves at first, and Ma Cheng raised his head to give the conclusion. "Xiao Li, I believe you will be disappointed."
Hans cried out, "What's the problem with the porcelain?"
Ma Cheng gave a sigh. Instead of answering Hans's question, he said, "Let me give an account about the famille rose porcelain."
Li Du nodded. "Please go ahead."
"Famille rose was created during the later years of the Qing Dynasty," said Ma Cheng, "under the rule of Emperor Kangxi in a kiln in the city of Jing De Zhen. The porcelain was popular in the Qing court; that gave rise to the saying of the 'secret collection of the Qing Dynasty.'
"The real famille rose is characterized by decorations painted in opaque overglaze rose colors, chiefly shades of pink and carmine. This is to make the color of the finished porcelain appear soft and elegant."
As he spoke, he picked up a porcelain plate and explained, "Look at the area here. The patterns on this white-glazed plate, the red, green and ocher: don't the colors seem a bit too rich?"
Hans couldn't really tell the difference. "Is that so?"
Ma Cheng laughed and said, "Well, let's continue. The color of the famille rose is gentle and elegant, but the pattern is often rough. The raw materials are coarse and the surface of the porcelain has fading colors and tones.
"Why is this so? This is because the porcelain was fired in a kiln under a low temperature so that when the color enamels and the glaze melted, they would not be closely knitted together. This is a distinctive feature of the Kangxi era famille rose porcelain.
"But look at this porcelain warewhere's the fading colors and tones? It was fired nicely in the kiln, the color enamels were combined perfectly with the glaze. It's very beautiful. In fact, too beautiful!"
He paused for a while after saying that. "Do you know why I focused on talking about the porcelain during the Kangxi era? There's also porcelain from the Yongzheng era, which has a totally different style from what I've said."
Hans shook his head while Li Du nodded and replied, "The base of the plate contains the Chinese characters that mean, 'Made in the Kangxi era.'"
"Yes, exactly," laughed Ma Cheng. "The words on the plate state its identity. And ironically, it also discloses its identity as an imitation."
The peak of Chinese porcelain production was seen during the Qing Dynasty, where improvements in porcelain making reached an unprecedented peak.
Influenced by the hierarchical feudal system and the historical tradition of porcelain making, it was a practice to inscribe on all official kilns and civilian kilns during the Qing dynasty. It was like an official seal mark back then.
As Emperor Kang Xi reigned for 61 years, there were many types of seal marks in that era alone. However, seal marks from official kilns were mainly six traditional Chinese characters forming two or three lines, and only a small amount of porcelain ware had seal marks using the seal script, which appeared much later.
A commonly seen seal mark used in the early days was the Chinese calendar system: the Heavenly Stems & Earthly Branches. It was also included in the inscription beside the name of the Emperor, and sometimes the name of the kiln the porcelain came from.
Ma Cheng told them about what he knew; he continued to speak only when Li Du and Hans nodded to express their understanding.
"Take a look what is written on this plate. The four characters, 'Kang Xi Nian Zhi,' which means 'made in the Kangxi era' is not according to the rules and regulations then. It should be 'Kang Xi Yu Zhi,' which means 'made by Emperor Kang Xi's order.'
"Even if one official kiln dared to use the wrong words, let's look again at the font of the four characterstraditional Chinese. From here, the imitation wanted us to believe that this plate was created in the early days of Kangxi's reign.
"Now let's look at the way it is written. In the early days of Kangxi's reign, the Chinese characters were big, broad and sturdy, the strokes were thick and strong, and the pauses in between each stroke were obvious. But the characters here are delicate and graceful, which is not in line with what is stated in history.
"There are more problems if we continue to examine it. Look at this 'Xi' character. The dots are written inversely, which means 'Ni''Ni' also means to go against something! The Qing Dynasty was notorious for literary inquisition. If one wrote like this during that era, it would be considered committing treason!
"Next is the 'Nian' character. Among the authentic famille rose porcelain, the three horizontal lines from top to bottom are written rather closely together, and the vertical stroke is long. But on this imitation, the second and third horizontal lines are far from each other!"
Du Dayuan turned his laptop computer to them. The screen showed the webpage of an auction site on which there was a picture with several Chinese men in it, including three of them.
Li Du was puzzled. "What's this about?"
Ding Xiaofeng took a look and laughed. "Lao Du, you showed the wrong thing. This is the publicity photo of our spring auction in LA a few months back. Why do you show this?"
Du Dayuan quickly changed what was shown on the screen. "Earlier in Phoenix, I received a request for providing some publicity photographs. So I did a search and sent that picture over. My bad, I forgot to close it."
The screen now showed a powerpoint. There were many pictures of porcelain ware, illustrating traits that proved they had been made during the Kangxi era. There were even close-ups of the various seal marks as well.
Du Dayuan said, "You can compare these pictures of seal marks against the ones on your porcelain. I believe you can spot some problems with them."
Hans was not able to tell, so he looked to Li Du, who had a bitter smile. "They're right, the porcelain we have are imitated goods." Just as he finished talking to Hans, there were sounds of knocking at the door.
Ding Xiaofeng, who was nearest to the entrance, got up and opened the door. When the door was opened, he was suddenly pushed and pressed onto the wall. "Police, don't move!"
Ding's face turned as white as a sheet. His legs went wobbly and he fell to the ground.
At the same time, Ma Cheng and Du Dayuan's expressions became alarmed as well; they unconsciously stood up, flustered.
The briefcase that Du Dayuan had handcuffed himself to knocked a cup as he stood up; the coffee inside spilled all around the table! It was chaos!
A few police officers walked in and the female police officer who pushed Ding to the wall got confused for a moment. "Eh? Who are you? Oh, my apologies, I caught the wrong man."
Li Du was shocked and enraged at the same time, he yelled angrily, "Luo Qun, what are you doing?"
The female police officer was naturally Rose; among Li Du's friends, she was the only one who was childish enough to joke and prank around recklessly.
After being yelled at by Li Du, she appeared to be abashed by her own joke and said, "I'm so sorry. I thought you were the one opening the door. I just wanted to pull a prank on you. So erm, they're your friends?"
Li Du hurriedly went up to Ding Xiaofengwho looked rather embarrassed nowand helped him up, apologizing multiple times. "I'm so sorry Mr. Ding, my apologies. This is my landlord who's also Chinese. She's always like this, imprudent and rash. I'm deeply sorry about what just happened!"
Ding Xiaofeng hastily waved and replied, "No no no, don't worry. I I I was just startled."
Ma Cheng and Du Dayuan helped support Ding, who was still weak from the scare. "Don't worry, Xiao Li. Mr. Ding has always been timid, so no doubt he got frightened."
Rose could understand Mandarinshe apologized again. Her colleagues also apologized.
As Rose's colleagues were present, Li Du felt that it was not appropriate of him to reprove her openly with so many people watching. So he whispered to her, "What happened? Why did you come back at this time?"
Rose replied in a low tone, "I came back for lunch. We happened to be in the vicinity to investigate a case. I just wanted to invite them home for lunch, I didn't know you had guests over too."
As she said that, she paused for a while and spoke in a cautious manner: "Your friends, they don't feel quite right to me."