Chinese antiquities move to center stage





Some four decades after the Cultural Revolution, when many of the country’s centuries-old treasures were defaced or destroyed as a result of Mao’s command to eradicate “the four olds” — old ideas, old culture, old customs and old habits — China has reversed its attitude toward antiques. Ming dynasty porcelain vases, 19th-century hardwood furniture and even early 20th-century calligraphy ink pots have become popular status symbols for an emerging middle class eager to display its new wealth and cultural knowledge. The antiques market has become so hot, in fact, that it has given rise to a new category of must-see TV here.

In recent years, “Collection World” and a dozen other similar shows — with names like “Treasure Appraisal” and “Art Collector” — have been luring both serious collectors and armchair enthusiasts, offering information on collecting trends and appraisal techniques, and encouraging a new wave of treasure hunting.

While some in the antiques world laud these programs for turning antiquing into a national pastime, others are skeptical of their educational value. As Yan Zhentang, the president of the Chinese Collectors’ Association, noted, “These shows certainly help get ordinary people interested in antiques, but the bottom line is they are just entertainment, and they make mistakes.”...

Nevertheless, the shows have attracted a devoted following. Zhou Yajun, a long-distance truck driver and collector from Hebei Province, near Beijing, said he watched “Collection World” and other antiques shows every week, testing his appraisal skills against those of the judges in the hope that he could learn to outwit the counterfeiters who prey on the country’s amateur antiquarians....

Perhaps wisely, Mr. Zhou has come up with his own way of evaluating authenticity: “After I buy something, I put it in my home for two days,” he said. “If I start to like it, it’s real. If not, it’s counterfeit.”...



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