A love for his­toric trea­sures

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By XU JUNQIAN in Shang­hai

xu­jun­qian@chi­nadaily.com. cn

Any­thing that dates back to 1911, the year that the Repub­lic of China was es­tab­lished and when China’s last im­pe­rial dy­nasty, Qing dy­nasty (1644-1911), came to an end, is of in­ter­est to an­tique col­lec­tor Qin Tongqian.

For al­most 30 years, the 51- year- old busi­ness­man has been col­lect­ing parts of an­cient Chi­nese homes and stor­ing them in a large ware­house in his home­town, lo­cated in the out­skirts of Shaox­ing, Zhe­jiang prov­ince.

In­side this ware­house are pil­lars, doors, win­dow frames, roof tiles and cor­bels, all of which come in wooden, brick and stone ver­sions. Most of them have been sal­vaged from scrap­yards while oth­ers were pur­chased for ex­or­bi­tant prices from fel­low col­lec­tors and orig­i­nal own­ers.

Ex­perts from the an­tique col­lect­ing mar­ket say that Qin’s col­lec­tion is so ex­pan­sive — they es­ti­mate that there are more than 300 old houses and 10,000 pieces of fur­ni­ture — that the ware­house is akin to five mu­se­ums.

But none of the items con­tained within are for sale. In­stead, Qin de­scribes them as “com­fort food for a home­sick soul”. He says that his love for an­cient para­pher­na­lia is akin to a woman’s love for high heels and bags, or a man’s ob­ses­sion with cars and sports.

Born and raised in Shaox­ing, Qin is a high-school dropout who made his for­tune build­ing gar­dens in vil­las oc­cu­pied by ex­pats dur­ing the 1980s. His in­ter­est in an­tiques was piqued in 1988 when he was cap­ti­vated with how re­fined the work­man­ship was for a set of old but charm­ing Chi­nese fur­ni­ture in the home of one of his for­eign clients. Be­fore long, Qin found him­self spend­ing mil­lions of yuan on such an­tiques.

Qin is not alone in this niche but vi­brant in­dus­try. Yiwu in Zhe­jiang prov­ince is known as the hot­bed for such hob­by­ists, most of whom be­long to the nou­veau rich crowd, as it is lo­cated close to Dongyang, a fa­mous town where the best and most ex­pen­sive wood carv­ings are pro­duced.

The col­lec­tors from Zhe­jiang, whom lo­cal mid­dle­men call the “big bosses”, hold onto the largest share of the mar­ket for such an­tique homes. They are also be­lieved to be the last batch of col­lec­tors who have ac­cess to th­ese dis­carded homes.

Col­lec­tors can en­gage var­i­ous ser­vices to search for their per­fect old homes and there are also spe­cial real-es­tate agents who work in this par­tic­u­lar field. Cus­tomers can even en­gage af­ter-sales ser­vices that re­assem­ble and re­store th­ese de­crepit build­ings to their for­mer glory.

What dif­fer­en­ti­ates Qin from other col­lec­tors, many of whom are coy about show­ing off their col­lec­tions as they fear it will re­veal the ex­tent of their wealth, is the de­ci­sion to have his col­lec­tions made avail­able to the pub­lic, though peo­ple may not nec­es­sar­ily be able to buy his prized an­tiques.

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the highly ac­claimed lux­ury ho­tel group Aman Re­sorts, Qin show­cases the old homes in his col­lec­tion in an Ahn Luh Re­sorts lux­ury de­vel­op­ment in Zhu­ji­a­jiao, a wa­ter town in the out­skirts of Shang­hai.

“The an­tique houses only be­come an­i­mated when there are hu­man be­ings liv­ing within, or more tran­scen­den­tally, com­mu­ni­cat­ing with them,” said Qin, about his mo­ti­va­tion to make the homes in his col­lec­tion avail­able to the pub­lic.

“Th­ese re­sorts will be like theme parks for an­tiquea­holics like me to sleep, eat and spend time the way our an­ces­tors did. Just like my love for col­lect­ing an­tiques, th­ese re­sort projects are not about mak­ing money.”

GAO ERQIANG / CHINA DAILY

Qin Tongqian has spent mil­lions on his hobby of col­lect­ing old homes across China.

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