DEATH OF AN HYPOTHESIS

Created: 4/1/1965

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STUDIES IN

INTELLIGENCE

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CONKOENTIAl

Chinese art in the balance.

DEATH OF AN kTYPOTIlESIS Sherman Kent

'One of the obvious rules of ourone not alwaysnot to do things tbe haid way when an easier way will suffice.

Some of us vividly remember tbe occasion when General Smith at the head ofC table referring to the National Intelligence Estimate under consideration asked bow in the world it came to be there. lis subject was the UK. With something more than his usual asperity, and be it said, some du Ingenuousness, he fairly spat at one of his lieutenants.ant to know what the British are upall them up and ask."

Perhaps more to the pointtorytudent who was taking Dr. Siegerist's course in the history of medicine at Hopkins. Some-one had rentuliai object and wanted to know what could be made of it. It was sculpted stone; its subject was clearly anatomical (some sort of organ from some sort of animal, and it was embellishedood amount of cuneiformr. Siegerist gave it to the classroblem in identification One student took it to the professor of andent oriental languages who read the inscription and said it was gibberish. Heew passages out loud to prove ft.

Another student looked long at the slone and decided it resembled no human organ. Thus skipping over hi* professor of gross anatomy be took itutcher. The butcher instantiy and unequivocally identified itiver, inheep'shen the professor of ancient oriental languages heard this, his thinking changed gears and an unexpected kind of sense began to emerge from the cuneiform gibberish. Suddenly he recognized some of the formulariespellharm or an utterance of divioaboo- The hero to Dr. Siegerist was. however, not the professor; it was student number two who had made the essential contribution and had done it the easy way.

What follows Is another piece of thesomething by far closer to our professional calling. It is recounted here not only

CONFIDENTIAL

Hypothesis

to praise the methodology of student number two. but also to make the point that the destruction of an interesting hypothesis is often asart of our trade as its confirmation.

Old Art for Cosh

One morning while shaving. Intelligence Officer Jonesrightso it seemed- If he could prove it out perhaps it would help explain how the Chinese Communists were getting some of the hard currency, for ^sorely needed,for ,example. Suppose, Jones thought, the Chinese, recognizing the great cash value of their national art treasures, decided to sell them. Why shouldn't they? Why should the Communist leadership sentimentally rate these relics of classical society and the rotten old empires aso long as rotten young Western capitalism did so rate them, why not realize the seemingly large amount of foreign' exchange theirsale would produce? Why not?

Jones speedily took his hypothesis to his professional colleagues. None of them knew much more about oriental art and its market than he. They too may have thought they recalled stories of Park-Bernot auctions where some bit of Tang or Ming soldery large sum. They did not, however, Jump aboard Jones* hypothesis with his sort of enthusiasm. They confined themselvesukewarm comment that only served to spur Jones on.

Still doing it the easy way, he took the hypothesisigher level of expertise: to an orientalist who had engineered San Francisco's acquisition of the Brundage collection, who in turn took it to her colleagues and dealer friends. Her reportsot of interest In the proposition, but produced no evidence to confirm. Indeed what did come through was strictly negative.

Jones began to feel that he had given the hypothesis all the play it deserved and was about to let it die when two things occurred to revive it. The first was when Jones was informed that Neicsweek sometime back had published an article to the effectwedish dealer had purchased some treasures in Communist China and had exported them under license of the Chinese government The objects in question were on their way to an oriental coUcctioo in Stockholm. The second was when Jones heard from an impeccable witnessood many old and extremely costly Chinese rugs were appearing on the Hong Kong market. Surely these could not be considered

An Hypothesis

something that was. Missed Magnitude

as rerjrescnting national treasures but they might be the indication

Jones decided to revive the enquiry. This time he would go to the real experts. Heetter (hat went like this:

The other <tay .cene of us were Hiking about the growing teuton betweenhine* Or* of my friends,articularly "well Wormed (r, sufih matters, spole of the new .nd drastic turn fee the worse in their rel.tioruhip and wondered rn pawing how lhe Chine* would be able lo conbnue theOr very substantial purchases of fcodrroffi end other rawbe, cu, no looge,a the rJZL and tho Btrmpean Satellite, for tWlalnother member of tbe group sngge.ledf the Chinese CcrnmunM government Ends itself .eallvfor hard currency, it might turn to seDin* Itshat If they should reach thii point, tbey would probably do everything possible to conceal thee wily way we could find out would be through chance enmnwnJcaUon. between museum personnel and others who work fa tbe field of oriental art around the wcrld.

With this piece of prose in hand he invited the curatoramous oriental collection to lunch, gave him the necessary background, andold pitch. What did the curator think of the idea? Would he be willing toetter like the above to his knowledgeable colleagues and show Jones what he got to reply?

To Jones' delight the curator was enmusiastic. Not that hehoop for Jones' hypothesis, butotally different reason he was happy to go along. It was as the curator was explaining his own Interest that he casually dropped an oblique half sentence that killed the hypothesis for Jones' purposes stone dead. The death blow was the curators aside to the effect that the yearly sum spentfor Chinese art was of the orderillion dollars. With this amount of hard currency the Chinese would have less than oneof their annual oudays for imported foodstuffs.

Anil-Customs Consensus

What had caught the curator's interest was an excuse to poll the experts in his field of expertise. It seemed that. lawthe import of all goods of Red Chinese originajor headache. art collectors. and foreign dealers, Here is the reason: suppose Mayuyama and Company of Tokyo acquired a

Hypo(heii|

Chines* antiqueapanese family that had owned itentury. Suppose the American curator wanted to buy it for hfs museum. Before he could get the object into the United States he and Mayuyama would have to satisfy. customs people that the transactor.would in no sense profit the Chinese Omrnunists. The Japanese dealer would have to be able to prove that the object in question had left the Chinese mainland and had been paid for prior to the Communist takeoverones got ihe idea that our customspeople were pretty hard to satisfy. .Their attitude was under-standabry Irksome to American collectors, hot to say foreign dealers whojere not getting the fun good out of the affluent American

If the curator could get full aod expert testtaony to the effect that the Chmese were not willing to sell their art treasures and had not done so. then, he reasoned, he might have less trouble with US

}Z'0mtJones' idea and Jones" draft letter; hearagraph of his own and sent ft to some thirty colleagues. They were fellow curators of the world's most important museums of oriental art and the world', most important dealers.

If the hypothesis was not already dead as far as the curator was concerned, it speedily became so. All but one or two of Ihe people queried answered. Most of them wrote after they had talked the matter over wtth other experts in the field The twenty-eight replies that didepresented the view of several score, and every single one respondedhatteringew did not confine themselves to saying they knew of no sales from thebut quite gratuitously went on to indicate that they could not imagine the situation in which the Chinese regime would part with any of ^treasures. Two indicated that they had had unsubstantiated reports that the Chmese were actually spending good hard cash to repatriate certain objects of art.

And what of the objects which Newsweek had reported on tbe way to Stockholm? One of the respondents had seen them and called them nother, "junk"

'NFIDENTIAL

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