A legal battle is continuing over a unique collection of Chinese seal designs that went missing in Japan in 2011, raising concerns over the future of bilateral cultural exchanges.
Known as the "sacred book" on seal art, the two-volume "Xiling Bajia Yincun" (Seirei Hakka Inzon) features 601 designs by eight seal engravers in the latter part of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), called the "Big Eight of Xiling."
It is the only copy in the world, and it could be worth more than 100 million yen ($1 million) by one estimate.
The designs were collected by Ding Ren (1879-1949), a co-founder of China's Xiling seal society, as well as his father and grandfather, over 100 years.
Engraving characters into stone, wood or metal to create seals is an established branch of calligraphy.
The book's existence was not publicly known until Ding Ruxia, 67, Ding's granddaughter and an entrepreneur who lives in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, made an announcement in 2003.
The book attracted attention from calligraphers both in Japan and in China, where a special TV program was broadcast.
Japanese seal artist Fukei Naito, 71, lost the book in September 2011 after he borrowed it from Ding for an exhibition.
Naito, a member of the Nitten art organization and vice president of the all-Japan seal art federation, said he left the book behind in a hotel restroom in Saitama when he was on his way to return the book to Ding.
Naito said he realized that he did not have the book with him about 10 minutes later and returned to the restroom. He said he was unable to find the book and contacted police.
Ding had suspicions about the way Naito lost the book, so she filed a lawsuit in July demanding he hand it over, and the court ruled in her favor.
But after authorities could not find the book in Naito’s home or office, Ding filed another suit in January, seeking 30 million yen in damages.
"I am having a hard time because the book I inherited from my ancestors has gone missing," Ding said. "I am demanding 30 million yen because that is the amount Naito is able to pay. The book is actually worth more than that."
Naito said he is sorry for losing the book by mistake. He said he wants to pay damages but the book is not worth 30 million yen.
Wu Chao, a Shanghai-based calligrapher and a member of the Xiling seal society, said the book will fetch more than 100 million yen if it is auctioned in China.
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