Peking offers icon of Mao to a feverish art market



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
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor