By Tom Phillips
A Chinese museum has been forced to close after claims its 40,000-strong collection of supposedly ancient relics is almost entirely composed of fakes.
The Jibaozhai Museum in Jizhou, a city in the northern province of Hebei, opened in 2010, its 12 exhibition halls packed with apparently unique cultural gems.
But on Monday, the museum was shut after claims many of the exhibits were knock-offs bought for between 100 and 2000 yuan ($17.50 and $350).
The museum's public humiliation began earlier this month when visiting Chinese writer Ma Boyong noticed a series of inexplicable discrepancies and posted his findings online.
Among the most striking errors were artifacts engraved with writing stating they dated back more than 4000 years to the time of China's Yellow Emperor. But the Shanghai Daily said the writing was in simplified Chinese characters that only came into widespread use in the 20th century.
The collection also had a ''Tang Dynasty'' five-color porcelain vase, despite the fact this technique was invented hundreds of years later during the Ming Dynasty.
Residents in the nearby village of Erpu had long argued the party boss who oversaw the collection bought fake items with money raised for the museum, the Global Times said on Tuesday.
Museum staff tried to play down the scandal. Chief consultant Wei Yingjun conceded it did not have the proper provincial authorizations to operate but said he was ''quite positive'' at least 80 of its 40,000 objects had been confirmed as authentic.
Mr Wei said that objects of ''dubious'' origin had been ''marked very clearly'' so as not to mislead visitors and promised to sue Mr Ma for blackening the museum's name.
The museum's owner Wang Zonquan claimed that ''even the gods cannot tell whether the exhibits are fake or not''.
China's online community begged to differ, reacting with its customary barrage of disgust and ridicule. One micro-blogger urged local authorities to reopen the museum as ''China's biggest fake item museum''.