The kerfuffle over Liu Yiqian’s having sipped some tea from his newly purchased Chicken Cup, an imperial porcelain the Chinese art collector bought from Sotheby’s Meiyintang sale for $36m, has given us an unexpected illustration of why Chinese buyers (and others around the world) are so enamored of Imperial objects. It gives the owner a direct connection to the greatness of the past:
Images of Mr. Liu sipping from the cup circulated over the Internet this weekend, sparking fast condemnation from Chinese observers online. “You think you can drink it and become immortal? Or that it will extend your life? In fact, isn’t it just a way to satisfy your vanity?” wrote one Weibo user.
“Sigh, Chinese people are just like this,” opined another: “No people who are civilized would treat a cultural treasure like this. No wonder Chinese people are looked down on by other countries’ citizens.”
On Monday, Mr. Liu told China Real Time that he wasn’t trying to show off his wealth. “It happened when I was paying,” said Mr. Liu, who made his fortune in finance. “A Sotheby’s staffer poured me some tea. I saw the [chicken cup] and excitedly poured some of that tea into the cup and drank a little,” he said. “Such a simple thing—what’s so crazy about that?”
“Emperor Qianlong has used it, now I’ve used it,” said Mr. Liu of his chicken cup, referring to one of the Qing Dynasty’s most celebrated emperors. “I just wanted to see how it felt.”