China / Across America

Black swan statue at Beijing shopping mall ruffles some feathers

By William Hennelly (China Daily USA) Updated: 2016-12-01 12:03

When it comes to the financial world, a "black swan event" usually is not cause for celebration.

The concept came out of the 2007 book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a risk analyst and former trader, and it was applied to the 2008 global financial crisis. Black swan events are unforeseen occurrences that have tumultuous ramifications.

The catalyst for the black swan financial event of 2008 was a high default rate in the subprime home-mortgage sector in the US, which in turn took down many businesses holding that debt and its derivatives thereof.

Taleb argues that if a broken system is allowed to fail, as it did in 2008, it actually strengthens the system against catastrophe in the future.

So that history may have been why a black swan - a spray-painted bronze sculpture by Chinese artist Guo Jian - had a short stint in a fancy Beijing shopping mall this week.

The bird itself probably wouldn't have caused a stir in the Seasons Place Shopping Centre, as it placidly sat across from fashionable stores such as Ermenegildo Zegna and Bottega Veneta.

No, this one was all about location.

The swan was perched across from the offices of the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC), which oversees China's stock markets.

Media reports show several men in suits placing a black cloth over the sleek statute and hauling it away, leaving a barren stone slab.

"I don't know who was offended by my sculpture," Guo told Agence France Presse. "I have no financial knowledge and do not invest in the stock market either."

He said the work was inspired by origami. "I wanted to show the mysteriousness and fragility of the bird.

"As an artist, I try to express my thoughts on human lives, from womb to tomb, in my work."

Guo said he didn't know where the sculpture was taken.

It was previously displayed at an exhibition in Beijing in 2014, and miniature versions of it are available online for $9,900, AFP reported.

Some Chinese social media users thought that the swan's removal was an overreaction, framing it as financial types throwing their weight around, the BBC reported.

One netizen opined: "Not only does the CSRC dislike the black swan, the world's whole financial industry hates the phenomenon."

"Try to tie a bull in front of the door," another joked on Weibo.

"This mall is private property; they can put up what they like!" said one.

"They're suffering from paranoia," another remarked.

Another netizen posited that the traders must lack confidence in their own abilities if they believe a statue in a shopping mall holds that much sway over the markets.

Maybe, but China's markets couldn't avoid the 2008 global selloff, as the Shanghai index lost 65 percent that year - and that was eight years ago.

China is only a little more than a year out from a domestic market selloff in the summer of 2015, which occurred only months after widespread investor speculation had sent its stock indices soaring.

Agencies such as the CSRC had to take steps to stanch the selling, such as restrictions on short selling and insider sales along with a halt to new company listings. There also was a central bank rate cut.

So maybe this move could be a little superstition-risk management.

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