Dealing with the past

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 March, 2007, 12:00am

Name: Joyce Liang Occupation: Antiques dealer

Young Post: What made you become an antiques dealer?

Liang: I have liked Chinese history and art since I was young.

Of all the many antiques from different periods, I am most fascinated by bronze vessels from the Shang and Chou dynasties because of their intricate designs.

I learned a lot from my family and many of my friends who are also in the antiques business.

In 1998, I opened my own business, Joyce Gallery, which specialises in selling bronze vessels.

YP: What does your job entail?

L: I often go overseas to attend antiques auctions. Sometimes, the descendants of ancient dignitaries contact us to see whether we are interested in buying their collections.

I have to liaise with both sellers and buyers.

I also carry out tests to ensure the authenticity of the antiques.

YP: Is there a local market for bronze vessels from the Shang and Chou dynasties?

L: They are totally overlooked both in Hong Kong and on the mainland. Most Chinese art lovers collect porcelain from the Qing Dynasty. They admire pieces from that period for their complicated designs.

To me, porcelain from the Qing Dynasty is nothing more than gaudy and unoriginal.

Fuelled by the high demand, the antiques market is full of expensive porcelain items. In comparison, bronze antiques don't get the recognition they deserve.

YP: Why do you like bronze vessels from the Shang and Chou dynasties so much?

L: They are more than 3,000 years old, and have a huge significance for Chinese civilisation.

People from those two eras conveyed many religious messages through their art. Inscribed with Jinwen [a kind of ancient Chinese hieroglyphics] and abstract-looking masks of deities, the bronze vessels have very high artistic value.

They also tell us a lot about the history of Shang and Chou dynasties. During those times, only influential people or high-ranking officials - authorised by the emperor - could hire craftsmen to make bronze vessels. That says a lot about the ancient caste system.

For example, only the emperor could possess nine cauldrons, while zhuhou [feudal lords] were entitled to seven.

By studying bronze vessels, we can fill many gaps in ancient history.

YP: The Chinese art and antiques business is booming on the mainland, with some items fetching millions of dollars. What do you think about the phenomenon?

L: The mainland market is booming at the moment. Even works by living artists can fetch exorbitant prices at auctions.

The situation is absurd - an artwork can change hands several times within a month. China's art scene is filled with speculators, not genuine art lovers. This makes me sad.