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Global treasure, local address

(Global Times)

10:31, March 28, 2013

If not for the forbidden name list issued by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage recently, people would still be unaware that taking certain artists' works out of the country is illegal.

From the perspective of protecting national treasures, the list is justified. However, a bigger problem is that in the current global art market where Chinese products and buyers attract numerous collectors, forbidding these works to enter a wider market may be limiting the realization of those works' value.

On the list are a total of 24 late Chinese artists whose works are not allowed to be taken out of the country. The list includes world famous artists like Wu Guanzhong, Guan Shanyue and Chen Yifei.

Their works are forbidden to be taken out in different degrees. For instance, absolutely no works by Wu are allowed out of the country, while Guan and Chen's works are prohibited on principle. For other lesser-known artists like Bai Xueshi, Qi Gong and Cheng Shifa, their representative works are not to be taken abroad.

Small impact so far

As a favorite at the auction market, Wu's works are collected by many auction companies. In the 2011 autumn auction by A&F Auction Company in Beijing, Wu's oil painting Ten Thousand Kilometers of the Yangtze River sold for 149.5 million yuan ($24 million), setting a record for a Chinese oil painting.

And according to, a leading domestic art market information provider, there are a total of 5,112 auction pieces from Wu Guanzhong. With 72 percent of them having been sold in the market, the total sales volume has reach 5.21 billion yuan ($838 million).

"Many of Wu's works are returning to China, and most of the buyers are from the country and Southeast Asian countries," said Jiang Wei, executive director of A&F Auction Company, "so the list won't have an obvious effect on Wu's works in the market."

"The list forbids foreign buyers in the market, which would affect the circulation and bidding for those art works," said Xie Xiaodong, vice general manager of Beijing Council International Auction Co Ltd. "But the trend is that works by famous late artists like Wu Guanzhong and Chen Yifei are gradually coming back to China these years since buyers are mostly from China."

"So the general impact for the art market will be little," Xie told the Global Times, adding that the 2001 list issued by the government also had little impact.

In fact, while most works of Wu Guanzhong and Chen Yifei were in the hands of foreign buyers in the 1980s, in those years they have returned due to higher prices within the country.

Another form of protection is that Wu donated most of his important works to several national museums when he was alive.

Comparable precedent

This is not the first time the government has issued such list in order to prevent late artists' works being lost overseas. In 2001, the first group of late artists' works was prohibited from being taken out of the country. There were a total of 245 artists on that list and record breakers at the auction market like Fu Baoshi, Li Keran and Xu Beihong were among them.

According to the newly issued list, all of Fu, Li and Xu's works are forbidden to be taken out of the country, together with seven other famous artists including Wang Shikuo and He Xiangning.

In the past dozen years, with some renowned artists passing away, the government renewed the list and hence comes the latest one.

Indeed, throughout the past decade, the price of modern and contemporary Chinese art works has soared to the height of the world market.

According to, a world leading company in providing art market information based in Lyons, France, there were five Chinese artists among the top 10 most valued world artists in 2012.

Zhang Daqian, with a total auction volume amounting to $287 million, ranked 2nd among the top ten and first among Chinese artists, followed by Qi Baishi, Xu Beihong, Li Keran and Fu Baoshi, with Fu as the last one whose works reached $152 million.

Art can only realized its value in a complete market. "Despite the fact that late Chinese artists' works have reached an imposing height, many other contemporary and modern artists' works remain in oblivion," said Lin Mingjie, an art critic.

"We should not just have the awareness of protecting our cultural heritage, but the wisdom to introduce them abroad," said Lin.

Good for Hong Kong?

Since late last year, several mainland auction companies have made plans to do business in Hong Kong. For example, leading mainland players like China Guardian Auction Company and Poly International Auction Company held auctions in Hong Kong for the first time last autumn.

Meanwhile Rongbaozhai Auction Company based in Shanghai and Council Auction are also planning to reach into this closest international market.

"The list limited the transaction and circulation market space for domestic art works, especially in foreign countries," said Shi Jinzhu, chairman of the Guangzhou Art Chamber, "This [limitation] will benefit mainland companies' auctions in Hong Kong."

Given the restriction list from the government, mainland companies that wish to introduce local artists' works to a wider market to hammer out a better price are attracted to the Hong Kong.

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