Art: Case of the Runaway Tongue

One day last September an intense, cigar-chomping Hong Kong art dealer bounded into the local U.S. Treasury Foreign Assets Control Office on what seemed to be a fairly routine matter. All he wanted was a license to ship a rare and ancient (1000 B.C.) bronze ax he owned to a buyer in the U.S. Throughout Hong Kong, Dealer J. D. Chen, 55, is known as a shrewd and canny man, but that day his tongue ran away with him.

At the control office, a U.S. official happened to make a general observation about the difficulty of getting permission to export Chinese art...

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