THE OAKLAND MUSEUM STABS THE PAGODA COLLECTION, LAS VEGAS AND YOU...
John Wen Ti Chang, jade master, creator, designer, planner and ultimately sole owner of the Chinese Jade Pagoda died on June 27th, 1961. During his 75 years on earth, 60 of them revolved around jade and jade carvings. His masterpiece, The Magnificent Chinese Jade Pagoda was the pride of his collection. Carved from the largest boulder ever mined of 9 tons, it required the expert work of 150 Chinese jade artisans over 10 years to complete. A month after completion, it was on its way to the Chicago Century of Progress Expo where it garnered the acclaims of perfection, beauty, incredible intricacy and ultimately, dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World.
Returning to China, he was again invited to bring his collection to the 1937 Paris International Expo. Fearing the eminence of war in Europe and the invasion of Japan, and uncertainty of air travel, he withdrew at the last minute. He was again invited to participate in the 1939 San Francisco’s Golden Gate World’s Fair in Treasure Island where he again made a big splash. Because of the invasion of Japan and WWII, his collection never left the shores of the United States again.
He returned to China after the war and prepared to return to the US for a tour of the US to raise money for aid to war-torn China for a year or two when he would again bring the Pagoda collections back to China. But in 1949, the Communists took over and return to China was not safe. Consequently, he, mother, Dan and I stayed and made our home in Los Angeles, California. My father became a citizen in 1953, and my mother in 1959. I grew up attending UCLA and married my husband, Robert Koh, in June 1961. 10 days later, my father died of a massive stroke. Plans for participation in the 1964 New York World’s Fair were dashed.
Here’s where the real dilemma starts. My world was turned upside down. At 20, I became a wife, saddled with a 17-year-old sister-in-law, a 14-year-old younger brother, a mother who was hysterically crying every day for over 6 months, and the mess of my father’s business and death. My father’s lawyer had died a year earlier and my father was waiting for my marriage to make a new will and a trust for his collection. Unfortunately, we had to probate a will that was made in 1953. My brother-in-law, Henry Y. Lee was named the executor but my half-sister, Celia, took over. I was too young and had my hands full taking care of the family and school. I was too young and traumatized to know what was going on. My mother was a mess, so my sister, Celia, took over the books, the jade artifacts at home and proceeded to do as she thought best.
Needless to say, the estate taxes were levied on the gifts we were going to donate and though my father’s collection was enormous, he was cash poor. To raise cash for taxes and mother’s expenses and widowhood, my sister started to sell priceless pieces for pennies on the dollar. It was the worst of times for Jade. The Communist regime had declared jade to be a useless bourgeois affection and jade all but crashed and the American and Asian market had not developed as it has. We had to find a home for the collection and then we had another shocker. The collections had been stored in a Stockton museum through the friendship of the director, Earl Roland. My father had not only gifted several large pieces for his kindness, but also a 2 ton Wyoming jade boulder that he had planned on sending back to China when the time came, which never did. Fortunately, Roland came to visit earlier that year and probably knew he was going to die soon.