What are the Rich Chinese and Visitors Buying?


The current crop of Chinese millionaires stem from the vibrant economic boom the country is experiencing. With the opening up of the economy and its growth, a new breed of rich kids has emerged. This second-generation (fuerdai) comprises children who are well travelled and probably educated in boarding schools abroad. They are not afraid to spend their family’s money, and art is one of the places where this money is going.

A $450 million Leonardo da Vinci piece was recently bought anonymously at an auction. Everyone thought the buyer was Chinese but, it turns out, it was a Saudi royal. It shows the world is taking note of massive spending by the Chinese art collectors.

But this is not to say the older generation is not spending money on art. They started the trend in the 2000s, and the Chinese accounted for about 9% of global art sales in 2007. The figure went up to 30% by the year 2011, second only to the United States.

Though the rich also spend in other areas like real estate and luxury cars, the amount of money going to acquire art pieces is significant. The Chinese collectors do not have a qualm about spending millions of U.S dollars for quality artwork. According to Christie’s auction, a fifth of their buyers come from Asia.

Some of the Pieces Bought for Top Dollars

They are going for a variety of artworks and willing to spend millions. Among the favorites are ‘ blue-chip fine art ‘ like Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Da Vinci and others. Pieces by these artists are rare, and the ones held by museums are not for sale. So, when they are auctioned they fetch unimaginably high amounts.

Chinese classics are also being sought after highly. The Chinese now have money and, with that money, the power to take back their heritage. Increasingly a lot of sales in Chinese antiques that got lost during periods of war are moving to China with buyers mostly from China. These pieces include porcelain antiques, ink paintings, landscape paintings and many more. In 2017 a landscape piece by Qi Baishi sold for $171 million at a Beijing auction.

Contemporary art is seeing a lot of action from the Chinese collectors. They purchase both Chinese and western art. Billionaire Li Yiquan made headlines when he purchased art worth 170.4 million dollars using an American Express card. According to Adrian Cheng, a lot of art works in his collections are from upcoming artists. And he set up exhibitions to help them showcase their work. He has even partnered with other collectors like John Dodelande in a book to support the artists.

Most of the works bought are kept offshore as they attract a 20% tax of their purchase price if they enter the country legally. The sources for the Chinese collectors are galleries, exhibitions online and offline, and for the young crop of collectors like Xufu Huang, Instagram is an excellent source. He says he scours the internet looking for new digital artworks more than auction catalogues.

The fuerdai are increasingly buying their art in private these days. The private buying has resulted from a crackdown on the rich, especially the government official’s children, due to public outcry. The public outcry stems from the flashy spending by the rich.

To Sum it up

Thanks to the positive outlook on the Chinese economy, we can expect this trend of spending on art to continue. The new breed of Chinese collectors is conscious, and though they still buy western art, they are spending big on Chinese artists!