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‘Anything Chinese’ Antiques Trend in Japan may be on the Wane

by David Pike (06/20/12).

The cover of the Art Domu auction catalog, showing a bronze pot from sometime between the end of the Spring and Autumn period and the beginning of the Warring States period—roughly 400 B.C. or there about. It carries a minimum bid, ¥3,000,000, which equates to $37,700.

If you have been into an antiques dealers shop lately here in Japan and heard a strange sound coming from the back, it may have been the dealers going through their inventory searching for and hoping to find anything “Made in China.” They are looking for pieces they call in what I call the “Anything Chinese” fad.

The last couple of years have seen a frenzy involving Chinese antiques market here in Japan. With newly minted Chinese millionaires jetting in for major auctions, almost anything put on the block will fetch a better price than in recent memory. The Chinese seem to come to these auctions somewhat aggrieved, ready to “bring back home” what they see as their property, no matter how the piece ended up in Japan or what the price.

From the Japanese side, there is a sense of bemusement at the bidding frenzy and awe at the prices that have been paid.

In this “anything Chinese” vein, the newest catalog for the next Art Domu auction—an event that is held two or three times a year and deals exclusively in Chinese work—arrived today. It is scheduled for July 3 in Osaka, Japan. Like most big auctions, all of the pieces involved have been vetted and authenticated so everything in the auction is guaranteed to be genuine. Organizes of the auction will not accept any item that has any flaws so all the pieces in the auction are pristine.

It is always interesting to look through the Art Domu catalogs, which are large and have full-color photos. This one runs about 400 pages and the cover image is of a bronze pot from sometime between the end of the Spring and Autumn period and the beginning of the Warring States period—roughly 400 B.C. or there about. Standing 27 cm. tall (about eight and half inches), and 11 cm. at the mouth, it carries a minimum bid, ¥3,000,000, which equates to $37,700.

Among the more interesting pieces offered in the Art Domu auction is a piece signed with the Qianlong reign, 1736-1795. The Qianlong seal is a favorite of forgers in later years, so it is interesting to see a genuine work from this period. This particular piece in the shape of a Tibetan mandala. It is a round shape with a center point radiating eight spokes. The center and spokes are decorated with turquoise- and coral-colored elements. At the cardinal directions there are lapis colored elements. It is the look of this piece that leads me to think this is a Chinese-made copy of a gift from the Tibetans.

A Qianlong piece showing the signature of mandala, Qianlong reign.

The Qianlong emperor had close relations with the Tibetans and the Tibetan lamas would send tribute/trade missions to China, loaded with gifts of all shapes and types: apricots, lacquer, carvings and metalwork among them. These were, in effect, Tibetan trade and tribute missions, as the Tibetans would spend several months camped in the capitol city of Peking both paying tribute to the Chinese and also buying items to bring back home.

Between the time after the tributes had been paid, the trading completed and before the missions set back off for home, the Emperor would send some of the offerings off to his workshops to produce copies of them in ceramics and other medium. It was a show of the level of crafts technology that the Chinese enjoyed. They were the most advanced country in porcelain technology (porcelain production having been solved by the Koreans and Japanese only with help from the Chinese; the Europeans couldn’t produce porcelain until some 1,000 years after the Chinese). These types of ceramic copies must have been powerful reminders of the amount of technological superiority held by the Chinese.

While all of these items are beautiful and would make wonderful additions to anyone’s collection, I get the feeling that the peak of the “Anything Chinese” fad here in Japan may be passing. Looking through the catalog, it seems that the Art Domu auction contains very reasonably priced, genuine works. Of course, these are only minimum prices and do indicate what the realized price will be. The realized bids may become multiples of the minimums and drive prices sky high.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

David Pike is a Worthologist who specializes in items from Japan, including porcelain.


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One Response to “‘Anything Chinese’ Antiques Trend in Japan may be on the Wane”

  1. Jackie Champion says:

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