Ma Weidu on Collecting Chinese Antiques


Guanfu Art Museum, a private museum founded by Ma Weidu

Fifty-three-year-old Ma Weidu (or Weidu Ma in Western tradition as Ma is his surname) began his collection in the 1980s. At that time, people rarely collected antiques and he just called what he bought “small old items”. The first antique he collected is a porcelain hanging panel, for which he spent 1,600 yuan or over 200 dollars.

It was a large sum of money two decades ago. Most people couldn’t understand why he spent so much money buying a useless panel when they saved money only to buy a TV or a refrigerator. However, Ma Weidu didn’t care what others thought and indulged himself in the joy of collection. He remembered once he was moved by the freshness of a white and blue jar after it was cleansed by the spring rain. He bought it without any hesitation.

Though Ma Weidu bought many antiques, he never considers these antiques as his own. He hopes to share his collections with people worldwide. So in 1996, he established the Guanfu Classic Art Museum, China’s first private museum of classic and antique art in Beijing. There amassed exquisite old furniture and antiques he has collected for the past nearly 30 years. (Read one review here.)

In 2008, Mr. Ma gave a series of lectures on China Central Television, which became an immediate success as he instilled his knowledge, doctrines, and life stories in his talks. He understands his current star status is due largely to the upsurging price of the Chinese antique market. But he frequently emphasizes a non-monetary view of antique collecting, as he said himself — In the past, these antiques had no such high economic value but now it’s different. To be honest, we can’t avoid the delight that money brings. However, the most important thing is the meaning behind every antique. No matter what you collect, you should pay attention to its cultural connotation.

The lectures have been rearranged and edited into a series of books. Unfortunately, I do not think there are English version books yet, although I would not be surprised to see them soon. As I begin to read them, I am often struck by his collecting philosophy. Here are some of his words which I would love to share with the readers.

Collecting antiques needs professional knowledge. Even if you have rich life experience and know many theories of collecting, you may also fail. Humans all have weaknesses and they may be commercialized easily under the force of profit.

Collecting antiques doesn’t mean gaining money. You should hold a correct attitude towards it. Wise people won’t follow others but consider the cultural value of the antiques. As long as we find joy from the collecting process, all that we devote is worthwhile.

Beginner collectors may have too much passions and anxiety. I was like that before, but now I have told myself “anything that passes my eyes belonged to me once”. Not everything worthy must you have in collecting, sometimes because you may not have the chance to see, not to mention the fortune to buy. Happiness does not necessarily come from owning an object, obtaining knowledge can bring you happiness too.

The most difficult question in collecting is NOT what to choose, but what to give up. You can only move forward by letting something go when facing a conflict. In some way collecting and life are not that much different.

Time is an coordinate for prices. One needs patient, not only to buy, but to sell. Unfortunately, sometimes the opportunity may only comes once per generation. Old men who planted oak trees whose shade they would never enjoy — that’s true.

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