The 2008 Beijing Olympics stirred up another wave of enthusiasm for private collecting in China, a pastime that has become very popular in recent years. Commemorative banknotes, stamps related to the Olympics as well as prize medals, torches, publicity pictures, badges, costumes, emblems and mascots are all hot items for collectors. The price of many of these has doubled or even risen tenfold. This trend seems to have confirmed that, despite China's consumer prices continuing to sky rocket and living pressure becoming tougher, it is still possible for the public to maintain a keen interest in collecting.
As an old Chinese saying goes, "In war times, people buy gold; while in prosperous times, people tend to collect antiques." The surging enthusiasm for collecting benefits from the improved living condition in the past 30 years since China adopted the reform and opening-up policy. It is also attributed to the renewed interest in Chinese traditional culture in recent years.
Compared with the surging popularity in previous times, this time around collecting involves more people. China is currently home to over 70 million collectors, meaning 6 percent of its population is engaged in collecting. In the past, collecting was a privilege for the extremely wealthy only. According to statistics from the China International Collection Association, today, China has more than 50 collectors' groups and more than 60 antique markets. Besides, the variety of products being collected is increasing, from antiques, calligraphy and painting to various items from different historical periods.
The increasing popularity for collecting is believed to be a good thing for the country and the people. The original intention of collecting was to protect history and culture so that civilization and tradition of China could be handed down generation after generation. For individuals, collecting will help fulfill their demand for a high-level spiritual and cultural life. At the same time, this is also a reasonable way of investment.
However, some people are worried that, as many people have not yet reached necessary aesthetic level, collecting is no longer as pure an interest as it used to be. It's becoming a tool for some people to show off their knowledge or even to become wealthy overnight. Moreover, blind collecting may cause loss of personal property. People's excessive enthusiasm for collecting encourages the business of fake antiques. In order to make huge profits, some people commit fraud and spoil the market. A graceful hobby is slipping into an activity of grabbing huge profits at any cost.
The process of collecting requires deep research into a certain period of history or certain kind of culture and this far outweighs any material value a piece may have. Collectors like Ma Weidu and Lu Dongzhi collect classical furniture and porcelain from the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911). Theirs are all invaluable collections and will be displayed in museums so that more people can enjoy them. As far as a real collector is concerned, although the market value of certain products is important, far more importance is the cultural and historical significance of the collection.