Unlike the fictional jewel-encrusted falcon is Dashiell Hammet's classic third novel, The Maltese Falcon (1930), which set the standard by which all subsequent detective fiction would be judged, Tiger Ying is a real-life Chinese cultural relic. It is a rare bronze water vessel, which dates back to the Western Zhou dynasty (1027-771BC). The vessel is called the Tiger Ying because the spout and lid are both cast with models of tigers.
Chinese art Consultant, Alastair Gibson, discovered the artifact when he was asked to view a small collection of Chinese bronzes in a house in Kent, a city in the south of England. Gibson said that there is nothing else comparable to the Tiger Ying in today’s market. “Only one Ying has ever been offered at auction before, and none
of the five others known is modeled with what in Chinese art is considered the king among beasts and the most powerful animal for warding off evil.”
The Bronze relic was looted from China in 1860 by Royal Marine captain Harry Lewis Evans when British and French troops under the orders of Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to China, sacked and destroyed the Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan), northwest of Beijing, during the Second Opium War in 1856-60. In a letter to his mother, Evans wrote, "From the palace on the plain I succeeded in getting several bronzes and enamel vases that will, I hope, someday find their way to [his home in the UK], as well as some very fine porcelain cups and saucers of the Emperors’ imperial pattern." Historians are satisfied that the Tiger Ying was one of the bronze artifacts mentioned in the letter.
In April 2018, the Tiger Ying was sold at auction to an unnamed collector for 410,000 GBP ($582,000). According to the auctioneers at Canterbury Auction Galleries in Kent, only six similar archaic vessels, known as ting, are said to exist, and five of them are in museums.
The auction of Tiger Ying proceeded over the objections of Chinese government officials who are taking steps to attempt repatriation of stolen Chinese cultural artifacts. The Chinese Cultural Relics Society estimates that China has lost more than 10 million antiques since 1840 through wartime looting and illegal excavations.
When I happened across a news story about the auction of the Tiger Ying, my thoughts turned immediately to The Maltese Falcon and the seed of the idea for T. J. O'Sullivan's third adventure was planted.
While making no claim that The Chinese Tiger Ying will come anywhere close to the popularity of the enduring classic penned by Hammet, midway through the first draft I think T. J. O'Sullivan fans will find the book an entertaining read.