A customer recently asked me about an item seen on eBay - a supposedly 1st Sino-Japanese War (1895) commemorative bronze tray. It sounded a bit dodgy, and then I saw the pictures...
Well, there are a number of things wrong with this. I've cut out the seller's name - it's one of those sellers based in Mainland China who sells everything from antique vases to random trinkets. Usually, when it's a seller who sells everything and they're all a few hundred dollars fixed and are supposedly 200 years old.... it's not right. The Chinese antique market is quite hot actually, and anything half decent is quite expensive now.
This particular tray has a few problems. The first is the subject matter - the Sino-Japanese war was an unmitigated disaster for the Qing. It thought it had a powerful navy that could defeat the Japanese, but in the end it got stomped instead. This was a surprise for the Qing, and the result was humiliating - losing to the Japanese was far worse than losing to the Europeans. It was not pretty.
So, anything in Chinese that commemorates this war would be pretty weird - it's something you'd rather forget quickly. But, there's text here, so let's look at it.
Basically, the wall of text on the left is titled "Treaty of Shimonoseki", which is the treaty signed after the Sino-Japanese war through which the Qing lost Taiwan and also had to give concession rights to Japan. The thing is, the text itself is pretty suspect - it's sort of like a Wikipedia article on the subject, but with clearly contemporary wording. One of the phrases caught my eye - in explaining the origins of the war the text uses the words "農民起義" - peasant uprising. This is a very specific phrase rooted in Marxist historiography, casting the Donghak Peasant Revolution in the light of Marxist view of the world. You'd basically only see this in post 1949 China. The text is also written in modern Chinese, not classical. Also, the dates are all standard years. If this were a period piece, the text would refer to stuff in Qing emperor's reign years. All of these don't work.
Now, the faker got this covered - on the back of the tray you have the date of the item!
It says "13th Year of the Republic of China", which dates this to 1924. So, all this makes sense then? Not really - lots of fakes in China have random Republic of China dates stamped onto them. That alone doesn't work at all.
Also, there's the color. Notice how it's a bit black, but streaky? This is an old trick that looks sort of ok on photo, but terrible in person. This is basically black shoe polish rubbed over the item to make it look older, but if you see it in person it's going to be a little sticky and grimy. Once you've seen a few of those items you will recognize the look very quickly. It's not good.
What I think the seller is really trying to do is here to prey on those who don't read Chinese, and the fuzzy pictures don't help at all. Thankfully the buyer wasn't tricked into buying this.