One of the more unusual stories from the auction rooms last year was about a rare Ming dynasty vase which sold for $1.3 million. The real talking point, though, was its provenance: it had been used as a doorstop in a New York home for decades, before the family saw a similar piece in a Sotheby's advertisement and decided to sell it.
The fact that the word 'China' describes both the most populous country in the world and an important category of crafts objects underlines just how important porcelain is in Chinese culture. Still today, Chinese porcelain is famous for its exquisite craftsmanship and decoration. Noel Wong, one of Hong Kong's greatest collectors of antique porcelain, teamed up with director Ray Mak to produce the documentary 'Soul of China,' a beautiful film that expresses the excitement of crafting and firing porcelain. One of the reasons for making the film was to document what is left of this ancient tradition.
In other words, each piece of porcelain has its own story. Considering that many pieces emerging from the kiln were destroyed because they did not reach the desired standards of quality, every antique piece existing today is a lucky survivor. Nonetheless, porcelain is, in itself, highly durable: Han Dynasty pieces made 2,000 years ago still have the colours and translucency that they had when they were created. The material is made from kaolin which, unlike earthenware, stoneware and other types of ceramic, does not deteriorate over time.
A few institutions in China are engaged in preserving this heritage. The Capital Museum in Beijing has a fine collection. In Jingdezhen, China's 'porcelain capital,' you can see one of the world's finest collections of antique porcelain, and purchase modern pieces. Other cities traditionally linked to porcelain are Quanzhou, and Foshan near Guangzhou.
In Hong Kong, there are two museums: the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware, where you can see a selection of ceramics from the 8th century on; and the Hong Kong Museum of Art, close to Victoria Harbour, with exceptional collections of Ancient Chinese ceramics and glass.
As the opening to this article suggests, Chinese porcelain is an exciting area for collectors. Just as there are many fakes, there are many genuine pieces waiting to be discovered. Before purchasing something, it's a good idea to read as much as possible. Go to auctions, where you can view and even handle authentic pieces. Sotheby's and Christies both have auction rooms in Hong Kong, with porcelain auctions generally in May and November. It's better to buy the best you can afford: just one important piece rather than spreading your investment into several lesser items. And if you have an Eastern-looking lamp or doorstop in your living room, take a closer look!
Watch the trailer of the movie 'Soul of China:' follow the link below and click on 'Trailer'