July 19, 2015

Editorial Essay: Toby Bull's perspective in "The Grape War of China: Wine Fraud and How Science is Fighting Back" in the Spring 2015 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

In the editorial essay "The Grape War of China: Wine Fraud and How Science is Fighting Back" Hong Kong police officer Toby Bull presents his perspective in the Spring 2015 issue of The Journal of Art Crimeedited by Noah Charney (with Marc Balcells and Christos Tsirogiannis) and published by ARCA:

There has been wine made from grapes – as opposed to grain - in China for thousands of years (Kjellgren, 2004). Indeed, Wang Renxiang (1993) considers it to be at the very heart of China’s culture and identity. Vine cultivation goes as far back as the Zhou dynasty (ca. 1100-256 BC), where indigenous vines within the royal gardens were said to have existed. The first documented account of Western viticulture coming into contact with the Middle Kingdom is found in a First Century BC history book, Shiji, where an emperor’s envoy sent to the lands west of what is now the Sino-Uzbekistan border area, saw “grapes that were used to make wine...the oldest was kept several decades without getting spoilt” (cited in Kjellgren, 2004). The envoy, duly impressed, returned with some cuttings and, not long afterwards, Chinese vineyards from a Eurasian grape varietal were established, eventually producing wine fit for the imperial palate (Kjellgren, 2004). And so wine became associated with the rich and high-born: a luxurious and desirous product, and with it, perhaps, the earliest recorded case of a “wine crime” occurring in ancient China.

Li Hua (2002) mentions an official bestowing a gift of (grape) wine - the equivalent of 20 liters – in order to achieve a high position and win favor at court. Hua refers to this as “the first time an office was bought with wine” – a neat symmetry to the modern-day practice referred to in China as “Elegant Bribery:” the art of bribing officials with gifts, normally of art or expensive Grand-Crus. China’s recent anti-graft measures, a decree by the current president, are seeing some changes to this method, although the Chinese still buy wine, lots of it, both for gift-giving and personal consumption, but are now spending less (Luo, 2014). Thus, whilst the West can look to the writings of Pliny the Elder from 1st century Rome for early references to the relationship between the wine trade and the shenanigans sometimes associated with it, so too can China look to its past, for the concept is not a new one.
Toby J. A. Bull was born in England and educated at the famous Rugby School. He holds three academic degrees, including a BA (Hons) in ‘Fine Arts Valuation’ and a MSc in ‘Risk, Crisis & Disaster Management’. He continued his studies in the arts by becoming a qualified art authenticator, studying at the Centre for Cultural Material Conservation and graduating from the University of Melbourne, Australia. He has extensive knowledge in forensic art authentication methods, as well as in the more theoretical and academic studies surrounding art fraud. His main interests include the topic of fakes and forgeries of Chinese ceramics and the problems of smuggled illicit antiquities emanating out of China. He has subsequently seen his work on this subject published in “Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art Market” (Praeger, 2009), as well as in “Cultural Property Crime” (Brill, 2014). Since 1993, he has worked for the Hong Kong Police Force. His expertise in the field of art crime have allowed him to be an advisor, as well as an Honorary Professor to the “Association for the Research into Crimes Against Art” (ARCA) for their postgraduate certificate program on “Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.” He has lectured extensively to the art trade and beyond on topics surrounding ‘Art Crime’ to the likes of Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Christie’s Education, The World Congress of Forensics and at Asia Art in London, as well as to ARCA's ‘Art Crime & Cultural Heritage Protection Conference’ held annually in Italy. He recently Chaired the Forensic DNA panel at the 2014 World Gene Convention where he presented a paper on synthetic DNA security coding and its application to the art and fine wine markets in helping to combat fakes. Seeing the disparity between public and private involvement in the field of art crime and its associated spin-offs, Toby founded TrackArt in 2011– Hong Kong’s first Art Risk Consultancy. Toby is a Member of The Worshipful Company of Art Scholars.

Here's a link to ARCA's website about access to The Journal of Art Crime.