Along for the Joy Read
In recent years, more books about antiques have been published. Some writers provide first- hand information about the history of Beijing’s antique industry, while others serve as a guide to antique shops on old streets.
Antiques, an industry somewhat mystified by nature, has set a threshold for outsiders. Yet, antiques are often welcomed as a hobby. Scholars hunt for antiques, do research in the evolution of the history and characters, study the development trajectory of art and gather materials that add weight to their writing. Officials purchase glittering antiques and jewellery to grace their houses. Powerful and aristocratic families house antiques to show their status, or invest in precious and exotic objects as a place to show off their wealth. But antiques appeal to different people for different reasons.
In recent years, a group of books about antiques has come to the fore. Some writers provide first-hand information about the history or secrets of the antique industry in Beijing, others serve as a guide to antique streets. Some highlight the historical and artistic qualities of antiques based on their knowledge of history, geography and antiques, while others write biographies for some masters by virtue of their acquaintance. The love of antiques has made these books possible.
Jingcheng Guwan Hang
As a wizard among collectors, Chen Chongyuan was born in a family of antiques. As early as age 10, he started to live and received his education in Wenguzhai, his uncle’s antique shop on Liulichang Street. There he gained access to insiders, engaged in the antique business, and acquired knowledge of antiques and appraisal skills. In 1985, Chen re-entered the antiques industry in Beijing as a recorder. Through in-depth investigation and extensive interviews, he garnered abundant valuable and less visible well-known information from veterans of the circle. All these materials were published into a book in 1990— Guwan shihua yu jianshang (“history and appreciation of antiques”), which turned out to be a hit among antiquarian enthusiasts. The new edition published by Beijing Publishing Group was retitled Jingcheng guwan hang (“the antiques industry of Beijing”), giving a fresh perspective to readers.
Jingcheng guwan hang provides a detailed picture of the life, destiny and the unique, intriguing character of antique traders of Old Beijing. The book also offers insights into the business reality, forms of trade, methods of valuation and an account of the antiques industry of old Beijing,
as well as appraisal know-how and information about calligraphy and paintings techniques.
The book also chronicles some lesser known trade practices. For example, antique dealers can help other dealers sell articles. No matter how costly the article may be, and no matter who came to buy, the antique can be taken away with no receipt needed. With both sides being honest, no cheating occurred in this practice for centuries, which matured into a trade rule and enabled the so called “Clothwrapper Shop.” Such a practice can be found in the book. Jingcheng guwan hang exists as a unique publication depicting scenery of the antiques circle in Old Beijing.
Liulichang Wenwu Ditu
A renowned street in Beijing, Liulichang Street is an icon of Old Beijing culture. It had been a place where celebrities, royal families and their relatives hangout and relics of the Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China exit as well almost almost all time-honoured antique shops. In 2015, Beijing Publishing Group published another book by Chen Chongyuan about the antiques of Beijing. The book, revolving around Liulichang Street, was named Liulichang wenwu ditu (“map of antiques in Liulichang Street”).
In this book, Chen examines national treasures and time-honoured shops, and tells stories of how antiques, jewellery and jade were authenticated, traded, reproduced, and repaired. With lively anecdotes, the book gives readers more detailed knowledge about Beijing’s antique market. Liulichang wenwu ditu serves as a window for antique novices to get an inside look into the intricacies of the industry.
In recent years, Dou Zhongru, an expert in Chinese history, antiques, archeology, collection, world culture, natural heritage and related subjects, has done another amazing thing. He aligned the germination, maturity, further development and prosperity of the ancient ceramics industry with each period and dynasty, and compiled this information into Taoci chuanqi (‘‘ legend of ceramics’’), a book published by Beijing Publishing Group.
The book includes 20 chapters, each telling of a separate dynasty, including the Pre- Qin Period (2100– 221 BC), Tang (AD 618–907), Song (AD 960–1279), Yuan (1271–1368), Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties. The book explains how rare ceramic artifacts were produced and spread throughout each period. These ancient articles may have been admired by aristocrats, cherished by scholars, or sold by speculators and gotten lost. The author gave readers the perspective of a “history museum,” telling the history of each article, detailing stories of historical figures and showcasing a unique dimension Chinese art history.
Qishi Wang Shixiang
Few have rivalled Wang Shixiang (1914– 2009, a Chinese antique expert) when it comes to the influence in the circle of museology and folklore. Any object authenticated or collected by Wang is equal to quality. Among his collections, a bronze incense burner of the Xuande Period of the Ming Dynasty, guqin (a stringed plucked instrument), same furniture and ancient calligraphy works have been sold at record high prices on several auctions. His essays, theses, treatises and poetry have all rocked publication circles. He contributed to the collection and protection of Chinese cultural relics, still a topic among people.
Beijing Publishing Group has published a book called Qishi Wang Shixiang (“wizard Wang Shixiang”), written by biographer Dou Zhongru, which offers a picture of the life of the wizard. Hundreds of anecdotes detail the life of Wang. We can see the pleasure that Wang gained from his wealth of cultural knowledge. A unique story, this work also remains an inspiration.