Now more protected, ancient calligraphy soars at auction

09:18, June 23, 2010      

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A calligraphy masterpiece nearly 1,000 years old by poet and artist Huang Tingjian set a new record at a Chinese art auction in early June.

Sold for 436.8 million yuan at the Beijing Spring Auction, the 15-m-long scroll has two parts, with nearly 600 characters composed by Huang filling more than a half of the total scroll length and rest comprised of added comments.

The sale far surpassed the previous record of 169.12 million yuan set in 2009 for a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) painting and also broke the international auction record of 230 million yuan for a blue and white porcelain vase set in London five years ago.

Most ancient works have surged in price after their art form joined official cultural heritage lists, said industry insiders.

A single work of calligraphy was rarely valued at more than 10 million yuan, according to China Intellectual Property News, but the form was among the second group of national intangible cultural heritage on a list unveiled in June 2008 and included as world intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in September 2009.

A piece composed by a group of calligraphers in the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties was auctioned for 100.8 million yuan in 2009 to become the first Chinese calligraphic artwork to surpass 100 million yuan.

Just a month later, another Song Dynasty calligraphic work set a new record of 108.64 million yuan.

China's robust economic growth is behind the surging prices, Xinhuanet.com quoted Jiang Yingchun, vice-general-manager of Poly Cultural Group, saying.

The national intellectual property strategy adopted in 2008 encourages protection, development and use of traditional craftsmanship.

Continued use of intangible cultural heritage benefits both contemporary and future generations, said Liu Zhiqin, a researcher of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Wang Wenzhang, vice-minister of culture, noted that when produced and developed, inherited forms can generate profits and provide an economic basis for passing on the heritage.

Yet commercializing cultural heritage is not always easy. Yang Zhaohua, vice-head of an international textile trade promotional center, cited Nanjing silk as an example.

The traditional handcraft can only be made in a strip 1 cun -1.3 inch - wide on a loom. It is difficult to industrialize the delicate product, Yang said.

The 1,500-year-old process remains handmade today, said Zhang Qing, head of a Nanjing silk research center's R&D department, so the silk is only sold upmarket in limited production.

And not all insiders campaign for commercialization of heritage. Feng Jicai, vice-chairman of a national literature and art association, expressed his concern over commercialization, People.com reports.

Some local authorities lack understanding of cultural heritage and just view it as a resource to tap like mines or land, Feng noted.

Making a profit is not the way to judge the value of cultural heritage, he added.

Once commercialized, cultural resources are managed according to market rules. Those with market potential will be put in the limelight, while those without wide appeal - like ethnic languages and folk literature- will be laid aside, and be the fastest to fade away, he said.

Governments should take the responsibility to preserve them as well to ensure the variety and completeness of cultural heritage, Feng said.

Source: China Daily

(Editor:黄硕)

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