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Expo artifacts up for auction

2009. 4 November

A desk screen from the 1904 fair depicting Mary and Jesus dressed in Qing clothes.

by Liu Junhuan

( With the 2010 Shanghai World Expo fast approaching, related events are gathering steam. The auctioning of world exposition artifacts, which includes around 100 precious world expo-related antiques and artworks, will be held next week in Beijing and has attracted international collectors and enthusiasts from both home and abroad.

"This is not just an auction. Participants will get a clue into the long history of world expos if they observe these works carefully," explained Guo Xueguang, general manger of the Stamp and Coin Department of China Guardian Auctions, the event organizer.

The auctioning of signifi cant pieces is not only aimed at providing a platform for collectors to exchange their wares from previous expos, but also o. ers a rare opportunity for a glimpse of China's connections with the event, according to the auction house.

"Amazingly, China made her debut at world expos as early as 1851 when the fi rst fair was held in London," Guo said. "By staging such an auction, we hope to arouse people's interest in exploring China's passion in this grand cultural and technological festival."

Most of the pieces to be auctioned have never been shown in public before. They have been divided into three sections: World Expo Medals, China in World Expo and Panorama of World Expo.

China in World Expo is one of the highlights, with a multitude of valuable documents and paintings vividly depicting China's involvement in the expo. More than 60 objects, ranging from engravings and photographs to commemorative plates and o. cial documents, will be up for grabs with many of the pieces more than 150 years old.

A wooden engraving is one of the most precious items in this section. It portrays Queen Victoria greeting Xu Rongcun, the fi rst Chinese person to attend a world exposition, in 1851 in London.

Xu Rongcun was a businessman who made his reputation in Shanghai for high-quality silk and tea. When hearing about the 1851 Great London Exposition, he shipped 12 boxes of Yun-Kee silk for display. The exhibition lasted for several months and brought enormous popularity to Yun-Kee silk, also earning Xu a bronze medal for manufacturing and handicrafts at the fair.

Tea ceremony performers at Paris' 1867 exposition.

Aside from the engraving, which marks China's earliest appearance at a world expo, a desk screen from 1904 is a beautiful piece from the Saint Louis World's Fair. The screen depicts the Virgin Mary dressed in the costume of Ci Xi, Empress of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), holding Jesus in her left arm. Jesus is also wearing typical Qing clothes. The fact that this piece is made by Shanghai craftsmen based on a painting by Shanghai artist Liu Dezhai, reveals both sentiments at the time and China's continual involvement in the event.

According to China Guardian Auctions, the desk screen has enormous historical signifi cance as it is rare a combination of Chinese and Western styles and also marks the development of Catholicism in China.

The starting price for this piece it is estimated at 1.5 million yuan ($219,656), the highest starting price for world exposition items on auction. The Panorama of World Expo section features a series of pictures and images, among which a 6.75-meterlong wooden engraving is expected to draw the most attention.

Collector Tong Bingxue has been interested in the genre since 2002 when Shanghai won its bid for the 2010 World Expo. He has collected hundreds of objects from past expos, especially items related to China. "I'm very interested in this. It's like picking up bit by bit those lost memories," Tong told the Global Times. "China has long been an active member of world expos and it cannot be forgotten. I'm sure there is still a lot more to explore."

Tong is also one of the advisors for the world exposition auction pieces and both Tong and Guo agreed that the interesting items would heighten people's passion in the expo and related collectables. Guo said that while some pieces are expensive, others are a. ordable.

"The average starting price for the collections is as low as a few thousand yuan ($400) because we want more people to take part in the auction," he explained. "We want to spread a kind of world expo culture. A better understanding of history can help us in the way we approach Shanghai World Expo in 2010."

Auction pieces can be viewed at Beijing International Hotel from November 8-9 and will be auctioned from November 10-14.

The China Pavilion at 1862 London world's fair.