Art market

Who are the biggest collectors of Chinese art in Taiwan?

Top Taiwanese dealer Jeff C.F. Hsu gives an exceptionally detailed analysis with names of leading figures in the market and where to find what kind of art


Jeff C.F.Hsu’s Gallery, situated off Anho Road in one of the most exclusive areas of Taipei, contains some of the finest examples of Chinese art for sale in Taiwan. In his spacious post-modern office at the gallery, Mr Hsu, secretary of the four year-old Ching wan Society of collectors, spoke to The Art Newspaper about the Chinese art and antiques world.

The Ching wan Society, according to Mr Hsu, is not particularly secretive and most of the members are so rich and successful that they do not need the support of a group. The club does not operate as a cartel, like the Japanese dealer network, the Kokan-kai, since, as Mr Hsu pointed out, with the exception of paintings, there are just too many Chinese antiques on the market at any one time for any one group to control supply and inflate prices.

The Society was modelled on its long established Hong Kong (HK) equivalent, the Min Chiu Society. The initial membership fee in 1992 may have been a mere $NT200,000 (£4,600; $7,700) but this accumulated total has since been spent and the second instalment has been increased to $NT10million (£232,500; $363,600).

The Ching wan Society has fourteen members made up of the greatest collectors in Taiwan. Individuals such as Tsai Yi-ming, who specialises in collecting porcelain, and Tasi Tzeng Yang, a member of one of the wealthiest families in Asia with capital interests in insurance, hotels, construction and banking, and who collects furniture, seals and jade, are both members. Other members are Tseng Chi-bing, who is involved in construction, collects pen and ink paintings: Luo Chin-ming, the general manager of the China Trust, who buys Asian Impressionist paintings; Geoffrey T.C.Huang, chairman of Dimension, the Taiwan Pineapple Group (see The Art Newspaper No.44, January 1995, p.30), and Ma chi Ling, a fan of the Chinese artist, Ling Feng-mien.

The society also has a number of honorary members who are no less wealthy, such as Hong Kong’s T.T. Tsui and Yant-hsin, the deputy director of the Palace Museum in Beijing. In order to raise the scholarly tone, Mr Hsu regularly organises symposia and asks experts to deliver lectures, and it is possible, if sufficiently expert, to become a Friend of the Society.

According to Mr Hsu the Chinese world of antique buying and selling is global. He suggested that members of the Society make approximately seventy percent of their auction purchases at either Sotheby’s or Christie’s. However, Mr Hsu himself now finds some of his best buys at the Han Hai rand Ja Jer auctions in Beijing. “Painting is, on the whole, of a higher standard in Beijing than elsewhere”, he asserted, “but jade and bronze cannot be exported”.

With regards to the HK market after the hand-over, Mr Hsu suggested that, “Macao would become increasingly important; in fact it is probably the cheapest place at the moment to buy antiques. Singapore will probably take over the mantle from Macao. But the new generation of collectors will undoubtedly come from Shanghai, Beijing and Hai Nan dou (an economic zone close to Hong Kong)”. Mr Hsu often puts his stock through Beijing auction houses and then buys new stock with Chinese Yuan, in an effort continually to upgrade his stock.

In answer to the eternal question of what is best to buy and where, Mr Hsu was quite specific: “T’ang dynasty tri-colour ware are good buys, as are stone sculptures from the Southern Chi and Wei dynasties. Ming furniture is definitely a good investment; jade from the Warring States period and Cho dynasty (951-960), and ceramics from the late Ming, transitional and early Ch’ing dynasties”.

It has to be borne in mind that Mr Hsu has a very rich ancient stone and gilded wooden sculpture collection, in addition to remarkable Tibetan religious reliquaries and fine early Ch’ing porcelain.

As far as market places are concerned, he told The Art Newspaper that, “Tokyo is probably the best place to buy Ch’ing porcelain, since the Japanese held it in low regard, whereas in HK that material is expensive.

Nineteenth-century ivory is cheap in America but in Taiwan it is very expensive. Stone sculptures are relatively cheap in London and cheaper still in Paris”, but Mr Hsu cautioned, “one should try to avoid the famous galleries and visit smaller operations on the outskirts of cities”.

The items for sale in Mr Hsu’s shop are clearly quite representative of the taste of the great collectors of the Ching wan society. A Yung-cheng, famille verte bowl for $50,000, a pair of Xian-long red phoenix bowls for $25,000, a beautiful Western Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 24) horse for $5,000, and exceptional Buddhist statuary. But it was in Mr Hsu’s apartment above the gallery that the depth of his private collection was revealed: Ming furniture, two sets of eighteen-piece gilt Lo Han (deities surrounding the Buddha), from the Sung (960-1279) and Ming dynasties; T’ang dynsasty (618-907) wooden horses and ancient remnants of cloth, with remarkable abstract designs, from as far back as the T’ang and Song dynasties.

The only cloud on the horizon of friends and customers would seem to be one of security because, as he pointed out, in Taiwan it is still impossible to get insurance for works of art.