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A younger insight into ancient beauty

EVERY day he deals with beautiful objects that are hundreds of years old. The irony is that Sun Hualiang, one of China's foremost authorities on antique porcelain, is a youthful 29 years of age.

In a profession dominated by age, Sun is outstanding for many reasons.

He was born in Xiaoshan in suburban Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, and started collecting chinaware in 2001. After he finished military service, Sun began working with antiques and opened his own porcelain shops in Xiaoshan and Shanghai.

"There are so many forms of Chinese antiques. I chose porcelain because it enjoys a unique place among Chinese antiques," Sun says.

Porcelain is called chinaware because China is where it originated from: China produced the first porcelain in the world. Originally porcelain grew out of the craft of pottery but now has its own proud and unique 3,000-year history of beauty and value.

Sun studied to learn about antiques on his own. He read scores of books and talked to experts.

In March 2006, Sun opened his antique porcelain store Xiao Ran Xuan in Zhong Fu Cheng (Antique Center) on Zhejiang Road M. where there are several antique shops.

According to Sun, there are many types of porcelain and each age has its own distinct features. The most popular types are the qinghua (blue floral) in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), youlihong (red in ceramic glaze) in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), doucai (underglaze blue) in the early Ming era and fencai (colorful pink) from the reign of the Emperor Kangxi in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

The differences lie mainly in methods of firing and coloring. Qinghua porcelain and fencai porcelain are formed in one firing in the kiln. To complete a youlihong porcelain you need to fire and color the item more then twice.

For most serious collectors of Chinese porcelain, the items from the Ming and Qing dynasties are the best.

"When peace reigns, craftsmen produce many delicate porcelain articles precious both for their technical skills and aesthetics. The heydays of the Ming and Qing dynasties resulted in the blooming of culture and porcelain," Sun explains.

As a result, porcelain works from the imperial kiln in the middle Ming Dynasty and the time of Emperor Qianlong's reign in the Qing Dynasty are very popular with collectors.

Porcelain was used to make almost every household item in ancient times including bowls, plates, vases and chairs.

"People at the time put the crafts into their daily life, both for aesthetic reasons and practical use," says Sun. "Now they have become priceless as pieces to be collected and admired."

It is not easy to appreciate porcelain. "You need to be familiar with Chinese ancient history and the social background of the articles," he says.

Sun recently realized a dream and added to his collection a single porcelain bowl from the Ming Dynasty. It's a small pink falang (overglaze blue) porcelain bowl with a peony floral pattern.

"It simulated the style of the porcelain bowl in the Qing Dynasty. The craftsmanship is delicate and the patterns of the peony are vivid," says Sun.

Sun had heard about this bowl for a long time before he set eyes on it.

"About 10 years ago, a friend talked about this bowl. He had been the owner of an old antique store in Shanghai for more than 20 years. He said there was a pair of fencai porcelain bowls that came from the wealthy Rong family," he says.

The Rongs were one of the four leading families in old Shanghai. The leader of the family, Rong Yiren, was also an antiques collector.

"In old Shanghai, most of the rich people, especially the big families, collected many precious antiques to show off their taste and nobility," says Sun.

Sun's friend luckily bought this bowl but sadly its twin had been destroyed.

Sun wanted to check out this legendary bowl immediately but before he arrived at his friend's shop, the bowl had already been sold to another collector.

"I was so disappointed. I still wished I would be able to see it one day," he says.

Many years passed, and Sun came across the bowl by chance at an antiques shop in Shanghai.

"When I first saw it, I felt that I had known it for many years. It had passed through many hands before I found it. I was so excited," Sun recalls.

He bought it without hesitation. Now it's one of his treasures, displayed on a shelf in his store.

Sun says the value of a piece of porcelain is hard to estimate, but it is true that many of the most expensive Chinese antiques are porcelain fetching amounts ranging from thousands of yuan to millions.

Sun is regarded as one of the most talented porcelain collectors and he can accurately assess the worth of an object.

Here he offers a few suggestions to Shanghai Daily readers on how they should go about collecting porcelain.

The first and basic step is to assess whether the porcelain is genuine or not.

The second is to judge the age which can be worked out from the material, style and other details. Then the aesthetic value has to be considered including the coloring techniques and patterns.

Last but not least, the historical background can influence the value. "We are very interested in the stories behind each item. We usually try to find out who it belonged to and where it has been kept," Sun says.

If the item belonged to a famous collector or a noble family, its worth will greatly surpass its basic value.


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