Not as Authentic as It Seems

I was recently reading a famous old economics paper called “The Fable of the Bees,” by Steven N.S. Cheung. In a footnote, Cheung writes one of the most wonderful sentences I’ve read in a long time:

Facts, like jade, are not only costly to obtain but also difficult to authenticate.

From what I can tell — hey, I’m no Fred Shapiro — this appears to be an original quote of Cheung’s.

Curious to find out a bit more about him, I read his Wikipedia page. It says he was born in Hong Kong, studied economics in the U.S., returned to Hong Kong, and was the first economist “to introduce concepts from the Chicago School of Economics into China.” He specializes in the fields of transactions costs and property rights and now lives in Shenzhen.

As it turns out, Cheung was indicted by a U.S. federal grand jury on several counts including filing false tax returns and bank reports. He and his wife, reportedly living back in Hong Kong by that time, failed to appear in court, and arrest warrants were issued. The charges against him carry a combined penalty of 83 years in prison and $4.8 million in fines.

But even more interesting, in light of the fantastic quote about facts and jade, is this tidbit:

From 1998 to 2003 Steven N. S. Cheung Inc. owned an antique dealer in Seattle called Thesaurus Fine Arts, which specialized in Asian antique pieces. The store closed when a series of investigative reports in the Seattle Times revealed that many of the antiques were fake, and whose old ages had been certified by a lab owned by Steven Cheung.

Thesaurus — which means “storehouse of treasure” — settled the case out of court, and Cheung’s name was dismissed.

Sigh. I still love the quote. If nothing else, Cheung seems to have followed the first rule of good literature: Write what you know.


I was just reading an article the other day regarding the extent to which a writer's work mirrors his or her real life. Even fiction writers have large traces of "autobiography" in their works.

Isn't all literature a manifestation of life in some form or another? Maybe that is why it speaks to so many of us; because it echoes the human condition. Cheung obviously acted on the quote of authenticity in his own life. He sounds like a fascinating person.


Quote: "Experts have said that ignorance of the U.S. tax policy is common among U.S. expatriates; the U.S. government generally does not pursue investigations of failures to report overseas income for non-residents. When discovered, offenders are often simply requested to turn in the unpaid tax. It is unknown why the U.S. government chose to investigate Cheung, and further to pursue a federal grand jury indictment; journalists have suspected ulterior motives."

Chen Xuanzhuo

Wow, interesting, I just find this article, 6 years and 9 months after it's been published. Mr Cheung is very famous here in China, his ideas influenced both scholars and policy makers back in 1980s,1990s. In his defense, both lawsuits had been settled now, he did pay taxes, just not to U.S. government but to Hong Kong government because the revenue come from his parking service company in Hong Kong, he didn't know by then that U.S. citizen had to pay taxes of their oversea income even after they already pay taxes to the local government. As for the antique store case, it's not fake but difference of the certificates between the lab the customer used and the store used and it's not jade, but ancient pottery and tiles which are hard to identify due to the nature of ceramic objects.