Historical knowledge must be passed on, dealers say

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 June, 2008, 12:00am

The city's historic role in the preservation and trading of Chinese antique furniture should be passed on to the younger generation, dealers say.

The industry should educate the public about antique furniture so people would not be deceived by incorrect information, they said.

Because Hong Kong was a British colony, a lot of Chinese furniture with important historical value and fine craftsmanship has been shipped to the city for export over the years. Many items survived the Cultural Revolution because they found their way here.

Andy Hei, who inherited his furniture business from his father, said that when the communists took over the mainland in 1949, many people escaping to Hong Kong brought the furniture with them. This, he said, contributed to the former colony's rise to the centre of trading in Chinese antique furniture.

But collecting Chinese antique furniture first became popular in western countries, said Ho Hung-yu, who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

'Many great pieces were shipped out of China during wartimes,' he said. 'Most people make the purchases in Hong Kong because our quality - both the technique in restoration and our stock - is the best. The business of antique furniture has had a low profile, but the development has been steady.'

Major international collectors and museums came to Hong Kong to shop for their collection, ensuring the importance of Hong Kong in the furniture trade, Mr Hei said.

'Since my father's time, important collectors including many major galleries and museums in the US, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to the Victoria and Albert and British Museums, have been acquiring collections here,' he said. 'And Hong Kong became a centre for antique furniture restoration. Many foreign clients have shipped their collections to Hong Kong for restoration.' Some items had risen in value 100 times over 20 or 30 years. A pair of official head armchairs that cost US$100,000 in the late 1990s was worth at least US$300,000 now, Mr Hei said.

Mr Ho said the boom in the business on the mainland had led to the spread of misleading information.

'This is very serious because some in China acted like experts in order to promote themselves, but they gave the wrong information to the public.' Mr Hei, who is also the director of October's Art and Antique International Fair, hoped knowledge of antique furniture and its history in Hong Kong could be passed on to future generations.

'We hope people can make a trip to the fair and visit the dealers' booths, feel the furniture and ask as many questions as they want,' he said. 'To dealers this is a lot of hard work ... but we don't mind. This helps groom the younger generation.'