Peking offers icon of Mao to a feverish art market

TERESA POOLE

Peking

In China's burgeoning art and antiquities auction market, there are many questions no one wants to answer.

Which government department, for instance, is selling one of the most famous official paintings of Mao? This goes under the hammer today in Peking, estimated to raise more than 1.8m yuan (pounds 140,000).

Where will Peking's cash-strapped Palace Museum find the money for its successful 18m yuan record bid on Thursday for the 1,000-year-old Song dynasty painting Pictures of Ten Poems by Zhang Xian?

And, in a market where a pair of early 18th-century carved wooden wardrobes is expected to raise at least 1.5m yuan, a Yuan dynasty ceramic pot is marked down at 2m yuan, and even modern oil paintings start at around 50,000 yuan, who are the mainlanders who can find this kind of money?

This week has seen auction fever in Peking. Three state-owned Chinese auction houses, Rong Bao, Hanhai and Guardian, have gathered some 2,800 artworks and antiquities valued at around 200m yuan for a series of auctions which continue over this weekend. In recent days, Christie's and Sotheby's have held their first exhibitions in Peking, to encourage mainland interest in collections of ceramics and jade jewellery from outside China which will be auctioned in Hong Kong at the end of this month.

And just two years after auctions of antiquities were first sanctioned by the state, the Chinese are certainly buying. In Hanhai's auction on Thursday, more than pounds 3m worth of paintings were sold, aside from the Palace Museum purchase, with mainlanders playing their part.

Julian Thompson, chairman of Sotheby's Asia, said there had been a ''tremendous upsurge'' in mainland purchasing over the past two to three years. According to Wang Yannan at the Guardian auction house, this year also has seen an increase in overseas sellers consigning pieces to China for auction, because of the buoyant market.

It is difficult to discover who these mainland buyers are, because with crackdowns in China against corruption and tax evasion, no one wants to admit to having large amounts of spare cash.

Just as mysterious are the sellers. The 1967 picture Chairman Mao Goes to Anyuan was the most famous painting of Mao to be released during the Cultural Revolution. The image of Mao striding across the hills was reproduced on stamps, badges and 900 million posters. Is the Chinese Communist Party now flogging off its propaganda heirlooms?

Ms Wang at Guardian said the majority of the paintings, ceramics, jewellery, rare books and furniture on offer at their auctions was being sold by mainland individuals who have woken up to the increased value of family treasures.

Up to 300 people are expected to register to bid at the Guardian market and, judging by experience, more than half the buyers will be mainland Chinese. Ms Wang identifies three types of mainland buyers. ''The first is corporations buying for the collection of the company. Then there are private individual collectors, and mainland art dealers. The buyers are mostly young and middle-aged, because these are the people who now have the money. A lot of them are in the stock market or real estate business,'' she said.

Lillian Chu of Christie's said: ''The history of collecting is in the Chinese blood.'' Christie's and Sotheby's both have representative offices in Shanghai and say that, at their top end of the market, there are about 10 mainlanders who take part in their auctions outside China.

''I believe that the trend is going to be that corporate art is going to start in China.'' She described the buying power as ''quite surprisingly strong''. In some cases prices have been higher inside China, particularly for paintings.

Chiang Lim-che, a Hong Kong furniture dealer, said most mainland Chinese buyers were looking for an investment. ''There are a lot of people buying in China,'' he said. ''They want to make money rather than own art. They pay attention to the value more than why something is a good piece, or the history of the piece. In China the most frequent question is 'How much is it worth?' ''

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £30,000+

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for individual...

Recruitment Genius: IT Project Coordinator / Manager

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy