Nantou County police last weekend said they raided several wood art factories and an art shop suspected of sourcing timber from protected Taiwan cypress and red cedar trees to produce wooden objects such as vases, treasure bowls and pens.
Police seized 170 finished and semi-finished pieces worth an estimated NT$8 million (US$267,200) in the raids. They also arrested art shop owner Chien Bi-Chia (詹碧嘉), and factory owners Wu Wen-po (吳文波) and Su Yu-chi (蘇玉旗) on suspicion of purchasing wood from illegal loggers, and charged them with larceny and violating the Forestry Act (森林法).
According to the police, many Chinese tourists love Taiwanese woodworking and are willing to spend big money on well-crafted pieces, especially treasure bowls and vases made from the coveted wood of the Taiwan cypress and red cedar.
Although the logging of these two endemic tree species has been banned in Taiwan for decades, numerous illegal logging rings remain operational.
Nantou authorities said big woodwork pieces with beautiful veins are the most popular among Chinese tourists, with price tags for such products ranging from NT$200,000 to NT$300,000 per piece.
A type of pen dubbed the “Chuangyuan pen” (狀元筆) is also very popular, police said, adding that some Chinese visitors believe these pens can bring them fortune in their exams or business.
The pen’s name comes from the title, Chuangyuan, given in ancient China to the person who scored the highest in the imperial examination.
According to the police, a small Chuangyuan pen can go for up to NT$10,000, while a meter-long one can sell for between NT$20,000 and NT$30,000.
To satisfy Chinese tourists’ demand for wooden handicrafts, illegal loggers have increased their trade in recent years, focusing on treasured trees that are more than 1,500 years old, police said.
For example, in a forest reserve in the county, police recently discovered a 2,000-year-old Taiwan red cedar tree trunk cut to pieces next to another felled cedar that was 1,000 years old.
In a bid to crack down on illegal logging, police are working with the Nantou Forestry Bureau in a joint task force that has closed seven cases and arrested 16 suspects so far this year.