tuous Basket because the artistry is tonbe seen in decorative surfaces rathernthan in art objects per se.nStill, the tradition of lacquering basketsnis very much alive in Burma.nElsewhere—in China and in placesnwhere Chinese have settled in recentnyears—their manual talents have attractednthem to assembly-line work,nwhile smaller numbers have prosperednas professional artists. Fads in Americanand the West can have crippling effectsnupon Asian craftsmen, though. Withnrising demand for any craft, the numbernof craftsmen swells. Sadly, declinenin these crafts is rapid when there isnlittle or no demand. Consequently,nwhen Chinese Coromandel screens ofnat least a century old are auctioned innNew York City, they often commandnas much as $30,000 each. The highestnprice on record is a quarter of a millionndollars for a 17th-century Coromandelnscreen. Yet, the average contemporarynCoromandel screen can be had innHong Kong for less than $10,000. Butnthe antique and the contemporarynCoromandel screens are essentiallynsimilar—normally nine feet high, 20ninches wide, and consist of 12 decoratednpanels. Aesthetes and philistinesnalike agree that a Coromandel screenntransforms any interior.nOf the 3 3 works of lacquer basketrynrecently shown at China House, JamesnWatt singled out a late-16th-centurynMing example as his favorite. “It isnsuch a rich piece,” he explained, “reflectingnmaterial prosperity in an areanwhich was particularly prosperous.”nThe piece Mr. Watt found so satisfyingnwas a rectangular tray with paintedndecoration and mother-of-pearl inlay.nIt was no longer than an average arm,nelbow to palm, and no wider. Thenenchantment of this Ming tray owed ton32/CHRONICLES OF CULTUREnBOOKS IN BRIEFnits tremendous range of colors, allnexceedingly subtle, modest but timelessnin their beauty. Augmented withnmother-of-pearl, these colors had theneffect upon my eyes that Borges fictionnhas upon my mind. Contemplatingnthis work inspired a feeling of elevationnand pride in human creativity, annassurance that for all the darkness creatednby some men, there are othersnwho can please many by the excellencenof their art. What this Ming trayndepicted was a natural setting in whichntwo gentlemen (on the inside of thentray) dressed in black and red arenseated at a red lacquer table, eatingnand drinking. It is the sort of setting,nsimple yet so inspiring in its tranquillity,nabout which writers like SomersetnMaugham and our own James Michenerncould have written a fine account.nOnce, inspired by a Coromandelnscreen, Maugham did in fact writenabout it, and one of the finest books onnUkiyo-e, Japanese Prints: From thenEarly Masters to the Modern, is bynMr. Michener.nLacquer basketry in China hadnNeolithic origins, although most ofnthe pieces shown at China House datenfrom the late Ming (1368-1644)”andnthe Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Thesencherished possessions of today oncenserved as containers of grain and satisfiednquotidian needs of the Chinese.nFour basic techniques—all very oldn—may be seen in Chinese basketweaving:ntwill, twill and wrap, twine,nand checker. Twill was the most commonlynused of the four.nBamboo, because of its abundancenand its wide use, has always seemed tonme a most democratic medium, unlike,nsay, bronze. Chinese made remarkablenuse of both bronze and bamboo,nbut baskets remained central tonThe Conservative Revolution in America by Guy Sorman; Regnery; Chicago. The Frenchnperspective is provocative, but an index would have been helpful to buyers anxious to locaten”the good parts”—i.e., the sections about them and their friends.nWinteringhy Diana Kappel-Smith; Little, Brown; Boston; $15.95. A winter spent with deer,nowls, hares, and hardy farmers in the Green Mountains of Vermont.nWilliam Morris and the Middle Ages; edited by Joanna Banham and Jennifer Harris;nManchester University Press; Manchester, England. A catalogue of artwork—includingnbeautiful color plates—and essays reminding us of the creative powers of a Victorian whosensocialism owed more to the splendors of medievalism than to the economic theories of hisncontemporaries.nnnChinese material culture. And in theirnzeal for keeping records, the Chinesennaturally scrutinized their basketry.nPublished in the early 17th century,nSancai tuhui, Illustrated Encyclopaedianof the Three Realms (Heaven,nEarth, and Man), covers all phases ofnChinese basketry chronologically,ncomplete with illustrations. Accordingnto Mr. Watt, the guest curator, use ofnlacquer on basketry began in earnestnonly in the Eastern Han periodn(25-220 A.D.). But some accomplishednlacquer basketry comes fromnthe kingdom of Chu, in South China,nduring the Warring States era (475-221nB.C.). Later, lacquer basketry flourishednin the Jiangnan region at thentime of the Southern Song (1127-n1279) and along the southeasternncoastal provinces of China under thenlate Ming (1368-1644) and early Qingn(1644-1911) dynasties.nMr. Watt also pointed out that duringnthe Ming dynasty, Chinese artistsnfirst developed a lacquerware “innwhich exposed basketry panels wovennof very fine bamboo strips were part ofnthe decorated surface of lacquerednarticles constructed out of bamboo ornpartly of wood.” It is this type ofnlacquerwork, from which the 33 examplesnwere selected for exhibition atnChina House, that Mr. Watt discussesnat length in his catalogue (The SumptuousnBasket, $15 plus $2 for postagenfrom China Institute in America, 125nEast 65th Street, New York, NYn10021, (212) 744-8181).nOutside of Chinese art, it is unusualnto find objects of daily use that are sonartistically enjoyable. An aunt whom Inlove once had a myna bird. As a child,nI was asked to catch crickets for thenbird to eat. I abhorred the task, partlynbecause we had no containers to feednthe insects live to our myna bird. Inlearned from reading Mr. Watt’s cataloguenthat in 13th-century China,ncricket cages of silver basketry werenused in the region of modern Hangzhou,na provincial capital of Zhejiang.nAnd so in a room for wonder I wasnreminded of a myna bird. The recollectionnwas perhaps insignificant, butnthe beauty of China’s art is meant tonrevive and enrich the memories ofneveryday life. ccnShehbaz Safrani is a writer and painternbased in New York City.n