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Bao Pu and Renee Chiang. Commentary: The Case of the Bogus Burial Suit

Thanks to excavations carried out in the late 20th century, archaeologists in China now believe that it was relatively common for dignitaries of the Han period (206 BCE-220 CE) to be interred wearing jade burial suits. Made up of thousands of highly polished jade plaques stitched together with gold filament, these suits encompassed the entire body and were believed to prevent its decomposition. The abundance of precious material and labour bestowed on each suit reflects not only the ancients’ aspirations for the afterlife, but their desire to impress the living with their wealth and prestige.

It apparently still does. In September 2011, China Construction Bank reportedly lost RMB548 million after its officers were overly impressed by what was claimed to be just such a suit. The bank loaned RMB600 million to the owner of the suit, which had purportedly been dated to the Han period and had been appraised at RMB2.4 billion. The loan, it was claimed, was for a real estate project, and the suit was used to impress upon the bank that the applicant was a person of wealth. Unfortunately for the bank, both the suit and the real estate project turned out to be works of fiction.

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