A FEW DAYS ago I received on my desk an insulting typed and dated March 3rd letter, with a local March 10th post-mark questioning our motives in publishing for the cover article of the March-April 1996 magazine the excellent account by Patrick Conner of our China Coast Collection. The reader’s letter has no address and though ending “Sincerely, J. Louis Franklin”, is unsigned. Mr Franklin, if that is his name, does not provide a telephone number and if in Hong Kong it is unlisted. So I would like him to know while I deeply resent his questioning my integrity I would still be pleased to meet him in my offices so I can “put him right”. Our collections are for pleasure and most definitely not for investment and in publishing the article there was absolutely no thought on our part of the China Coast Collection being sold. Furthermore it was for the benefit of our subscribers with limited budgets, who have seen part of our collection and would like to know more about it as a whole.
Patrick Conner has explained, while the collection, “Initiated some thirty years ago, and developed at first with limited resources, it has been conceived not necessarily as an accumulation of outstanding works of art, but as study collection – a process by which…the owners would be enable to learn, as they lived with and contemplated the objects they acquired. Moreover, their readers have been able to participate in this experience, since a number of these objects have been reproduced in ARTS OF ASIA, and several have prompted investigative articles.”
However, in twenty-six years of our publishing, this is only the second time that part of our collection has been featured as a cover article, the first occasion being with our snuff bottles in the July-August 1972 magazine! That issue had an invigorating effect on the collecting of snuff bottles and I will continue to publish my collection whenever I feel appropriate in areas which would now be difficult to form.
During the last few years I have been asked quite frequently, and even more so recently, by my concerned subscribers and friends, whether I intended to move our offices before July 1st, 1997, when Hong Kong returns to China. The answer is still no, as I have been living here for thirty-seven years and I consider Hong Kong my home. However, I must report that those here with more important Chinese collections are undoubtedly nervous. Some with residences elsewhere, such as in England, France and America, have already moved their collections. Other Chinese collectors have promised to lend their collection for at least two or three years to the Asian Civilisation Museum, Singapore, whose Director is Dr Kenson Kwok.
Up to now the major Western auction houses, notably Sotheby’s and Christie’s, as well as local houses such as Associated Fine Arts Auctioneers Ltd and major Hong Kong art galleries, have not received instructions from China whether their operations can continue as before. Published Chinese laws on the sale of Chinese antiquities are very strict. Judging from what I have seen in auctions and art galleries in China, important Chinese works of art can be bought and traded within China, but may not leave the country.
The eyes of the world are focused on East Asia, which rumbles with potentially increasing conflicts between China and Taiwan. With the hand back of Hong Kong to China in 1997, I believe accord of Taiwan with China is eventually inevitable. The West, and especially America whose continuing prosperity is more than ever dependent on its trade with East Asia, already rcalise that peace and stability in this area is all important in the next twenty years. Any differences therefore will it is hoped he resolved. As history foretells, the alternatives are wars which no advanced country favours.
So the more we learn about China, of its past history, its culture and its arts, the better, as the more will China find an acceptable place in world councils. Appropriately this May-June 1996 issue of ARTS OF ASIA features four major articles tracing China’s art history as far back as the Warring States (475-221 B.C.) period and following through to the present-day with temple murals in Taipei and Hong Kong – not the end, it is hoped, of a long artistic line. It is of interest that since Keith Stevens wrote his article on temple murals he has visited Amoy (Xiamen) in southern Fukien (Fujian) province where, in a small popular religion temple, he came across a type of mural he has not seen elsewhere. (1)
“The two inside side walls of the altar hall had recently been covered in decorated painted tiles divided into three levels. The third and lowest level illustrated the gnomic phrases which are also written beside them, bearing numbers 1 to 60, each tallying with the fortune sticks thrown by devotees before the altar. The illustrations and the phrases enabled devotees to read their fate without having to refer to the preprinted slips of paper usually provided by temple caretakers. Tile number 40 portrays a youthful scholar from Imperial times bending over an attractive young woman who is sitting at her dressing table. The text alongside forecasts that whoever casts this number will have a happy family life, and a marriage which will last forever. He will have a successful and prosperous life, and will reach high rank with many honours and rewards.”
“Made in China”, an exhibition of porcelain snuff bottles from Jingdezhen, is running at the gallery of Robert Hall (15c Clifford Street, London W1X 1RF) from June 10th to 28th. They will also be exhibiting at Grosvenor House. A group of figurines, (2) is amongst those they are showing, which reminds me that such bottles were quite overlooked before the article by Jan Chapman on the Chester Beatty Collection, in our March-April 1988 magazine, where a porcelain snuff bottle in the form of a Chinese scholar, whose hat lifts off to reveal the spoon, and a lady, with the spoon attached to her chignon, made the cover.