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Chinese collector pays $20 million for vase

Item is from 8th century; newly rich entrepreneurs are on spending spree
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Chinese entrepreneur paid $20 million at an auction for an eighth century white porcelain vase, a new record for antiquities in China, state television and the auction house said Tuesday.

The sale highlighted the soaring prices that newly rich Chinese collectors are paying for cultural relics at home and abroad.

The vase, made during the 960-1279 Song dynasty, was sold April 15 in Beijing during an antiquities fair, said Lu Fei of the Red Sun International Auction Co.

The price was the highest ever paid for a cultural relic in China, state television reported.

Lu wouldn’t give the buyer’s name, but said he was manager of a company in the eastern province of Jiangsu. He said the seller was a 60-year-old descendant of a family that has collected art for three generations.

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The 14 1/2-inch-tall vase was made at a kiln in central China. The piece is unusual because it is larger than similar vases made by the same kiln, Lu said.

“We did not expect the deal could be done at a such high price,” said Lu, who noted that the starting auction price was $7.5 million. “The deal indicates the cultural relics market is very big in China.”

Lu didn’t know what the buyer planned to do with the vase. But China’s cultural relics laws would make it nearly impossible to take such an old object out of the country.

China’s economic boom has fueled an explosion of art collecting, some aimed at bringing home porcelains, paintings and other arelics that were looted during a century of colonial domination. Last month, an 18th century porcelain flask once owned by a Chinese emperor sold at an auction in Scotland for $530,000 — 100 times the pre-sale estimate.

The auction house wouldn’t identify the buyer but said the piece likely would be returned to China.