Doubts over HK$270m jade chair, stool

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 January, 2012, 12:00am


Art experts and historians are questioning the authenticity of a jade dressing table and stool said to date from the Han dynasty that were sold for hundreds of millions of yuan at auction on the mainland last year.

The jade furniture fetched 220 million yuan (HK$271 million) in January 2011. And when mainland media this month reported it as the priciest jade sale of the year, internet users took notice.

The authenticity of the pieces was questioned because Chinese are thought to have sat on the floor, not on stools or chairs, during the Han dynasty, academics say.

The set was sold by Beijing Zhongjia International Auctions, whose website describes the 138kg dressing table and 35kg stool as being from the Han dynasty (206BC-AD220).

The company is quoted in the Beijing-based Legal Mirror as saying the pieces are of high historical value and worthy of collection. They sold for 40 million yuan above the starting price.

But academics say the pieces cannot be from the Han dynasty.

'Chinese in the Han dynasty sat on the floor, not on stools,' said archaeologist Liu Qingzhu, a former director of the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Antique furniture expert Professor Shao Xiaofeng, of Nanjing Forestry University, agreed. Shown a photo of the jade set, he told the Legal Mirror that such dressing tables and stools did not exist in that era. 'There was one item of furniture that was similar to a stool,' Shao said. 'But it's much lower to the floor, and it's for placing things on - not for sitting.'

A type of folding chair was introduced to China from countries in the West during the Han dynasty, according to the newspaper report. However, it did not look like the jade stool in the set.

But one art collector in Beijing, Ma Weidu , says there is room for doubt. 'Stools were used as steps before people began sitting on them,' he said. 'There's a chance that the purpose of the auctioned pieces was misinterpreted.'

The controversy reflects a deep distrust of the mainland art market. Auctions are frequently marred by problems including fake certificates of authenticity, and collusion by buyers, sellers and auctioneers to push up prices.

In extreme cases, art auctions have been used for money laundering, according to Xinhua.

A number of Chinese artworks, both modern and antique, have sold for eye-popping prices at auctions in recent years - both on the mainland and in Hong Kong.

But questions have been raised over the authenticity of some of the items. In September, 10 alumni of the China Central Academy of Fine Arts claimed in an open letter that an oil painting purportedly by renowned artist Xu Beihong - which sold for more than 70 million yuan at auction in Beijing in 2010 - was actually painted in a class exercise 30 years after Xu's death.


The estimated annual value, in US dollars, of international trade in Chinese art, according to Bloomberg