Vinci Chang, head of Chinese contemporary art sales for Christie's Hong Kong, recalls the auction room atmosphere when Xu Beihong's Slave and Lion sold 11 days ago for HK$53.9 million - a record for a Chinese oil painting. The sales room was packed and the atmosphere was extraordinary. There was interest from all over the world in the painting and there were more than 40 phone bidding lines, all fully booked. The bidding was really quite fierce. I was on the phone to a client in London who was interested in the work, but the price went up so fast I was struggling to keep track of the increments. It started at HK$1.5 million and within 20 seconds it had gone over HK$10 million. Clients had no time to think. They just had to react as the price went up and up. My client didn't get the painting. He thought beforehand he could perhaps get it for around HK$10 million, but it went beyond that amount so quickly. When we passed it, he said, 'Wow'. My client was surprised at the way the price went up so quickly. Even though he lost out he got a strong impression of how strong the market is. It's clear that if people are really keen on a good piece, they are willing to pay much more for it. There were a lot of new faces in the auction room, and most of the new people coming into the market are collectors. They are a new generation of buyers - people in their late 30s or early 40s. There are a lot of Hong Kong-based clients appearing in this market now. It is partly a reflection of Hong Kong's economy. Before 2002, we had our first sale of contemporary Chinese art, the market was dominated by traditional Chinese scroll paintings. There was no strong market for contemporary or modern art. But since we moved the sales to Hong Kong, from that year to today, there has been a rapid growth in interest in contemporary Chinese art from the local client base. The face of the Hong Kong collector has changed. Previously, they were buying more traditional work. They are now buying contemporary pieces. Last Sunday's sale will be an inspiration for the market. It will give confidence back to collectors, Before, sales weren't going well and there were rumours that the bubble had burst on the Chinese contemporary art market. There was a confidence crisis. There was a sale by another auction house in New York in September and it didn't go well. Most of the Chinese works were either unsold or sold for low prices. So people started to question whether the market was healthy. There was a lot of debate. The two main reasons behind the failure of that sale was that estimates were too high - way above market values - and also that the selection of the work was not as good as in previous sales. As a result, there was no strong interest in that auction. Collectors who are now getting involved in the Chinese contemporary art market have a keen eye and are very decisive about what they want to buy. They know the subject well. They really know good quality. People have more understanding and they know what they are prepared to pay. Buyers are getting much more rational. When they buy, their first consideration is 'is this a good piece or not?' and they are setting the maximum price they are prepared to pay. People are buying art work and keeping it, at least for one or two years. Even if they really want to sell for profit, they will wait much longer. The market is getting much more collector-oriented. Compared with two years ago, when the market started to rise and people bought everything, the situation has changed in a good way. There is a lot of interest in Asia, particularly. People are keen on collecting art seriously now and there is a lot of positive energy and a lot of new collectors. People think the market still has a lot of potential, and galleries and artists are excited about it. There also is strong interest from overseas collectors. There are several big collectors in Europe and the United States who are really seriously looking at this area. Hong Kong has definitely established itself as the place where major works are sold. I think Hong Kong will remain the leading place for Chinese contemporary and modern art, and I expect that positive energy to continue in future sales.