In my first novel, Jade Hunter, a young British sinologist named Jill Howard undfertakes a search for a large jade sculpture which had been made in Ming Dynasty China and then lost--or so people thought. In an old diary, Jill finds a clue suggesting the sculpture may still be extant, and she sets out ot find it believing that if it does exist, it should be sent back to China. In my next novel, Jill is once again on the trail of a mysterious objet d'art. Times Past (TP) spoke to Jill recently at her home n London.
TP: Dr. Howard, when you began the search for the dragon carving, did you honestly expect to find it?
Dr. Howard: First of all, please call me Jill. Dr. Howard sounds rather ostentatious, somehow. So...when I started the search....You know, I'm not sure I ever thought much beyond the research problem. What I mean is that I had found a reference to the sculpture as a starting point, and as I went on, steo by step, I saw it more as a research project. At first, anyway.
TP: So it didn't seem so mich of a search for something as a problem of scholarly research?
Jill: I think that once I got onto the trail and began to find actual clues that I could follow, then it became a real search and I began to think I might actually find it. I hoped so anyway.
TP: Can you tell us what sorts of clues you found?
Jill: Well, it was book research, you see: old documents, diaries, letters, that sort of thing. There was no archeology involved--it never looked as if the sculpture had been buried in a tomb or anything. although it did come close to it on one occasion in its history.
TP: So you spent all your time in libraries?
Jill: I did go to China, but in the actual research I had a lot of help. I was fortunate to have contacts to prominent antique dealers and I got help and advice from a great many other China scholars as well. In fact. I'd have to say that if it were not for Dr. Emiko Otsuka in Japan, I might never have got started. She discovered information about certain traders along the Silk Road and that led to definite proof the dragon carving had left China.
TP: It actually came here to England eventually, I believe.
Jill: Indeed. It had quite a journey, and the whole story of that journey and how I followed it is in Jade Hunter.
TP: Yes, but I understand you're involved in another search now. Is that correct?
Jill: Yes. There's been a long tradition--or rumours, you might say--anout a statue called The Golden Phoenix. It was supposed to be a gold statue, presumably of a bird-like being, but there was no agreement at all on how big it was. Anyone with an interest in Chinese art has heard of it, but until recently there was no direct evidence that it actually existed.
TP: So what can you tellus about it all? Are you on the trail?
Jill: I can't say much at the moment. However, there is evidence now that it does, or at least, did, exist. There's a late Ming Dybasty document referring to it, and it seems it was recorded as being in the imperial collection of the Qianlong Emperor in the late eighteenth century. I;m afraid you'll just have to stay tuned for further results.
TP: Thanks Jill, we'll do that.
The story of the Golden Phoenix and Jill Howard's seatch for it is told in my novel in progress. I'll be keeping you informed, so whatch this space.