What do a helmeted hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil), a narwhal (Monodon monoceros), and a tiger (Panthera tigris) have in common? Find your way to the right message board and you’ll see all their bones strung on the same bracelet. Along with rhino (Rhinocerotidae spp.), elephant (Elephantidae spp.), saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) and many other species, they are victims of the Chinese market for wénwan.
Composed of the characters 文 (culture) and 玩 (play), wénwan refers to an ideal of scholarship and sophistication once represented by the calligraphy tools of the Song dynasty (960–1279 CE). However, its meaning has changed over the past centuries, and it now refers to any number of collectible items that show an owner’s taste, discernment and status, including sculptures, jewelry, paperweights and seals.