Confucian Conspiracy

Chinese artworks are approaching stratospheric levels, as was demonstrated this week by an imperial jade seal from the Qing dynasty which sold for over $5 million.

However, by logging onto today's AK Files via the above link, you will learn that an amazing forty percent of all Chinese auction purchases go unpaid. This is a disaster for sellers!

Is this a Confucian conspiracy, or just a Chinese practice of business as usual? Probably a little of both.

The Qianlong vase, shown here, was adjudicated at £50 million in London but continues to collect dust in the auction house showroom.

Notably reneged was the stop-payment in Paris at the Yves Saint Laurent sale. Two brass animal heads were hammered down at more than €30m but never paid for.

A spectacular jade throne from the Han dynasty which sold at auction in Beijing for Rmb220m ($34.9m) has yet to be picked up.

Today's homepage Featured Video offers a political explanation which claims that some wealthy Chinese are deliberately sabotaging Western art hegemony -- as many of these works may have been stolen from historical sites.

However, this theory cannot explain the astounding failure to close on contemporary works offered by living Chinese artists.

Perhaps Chinese collectors view the auction process as "business as usual", whereby a hammered sale price is just another means of further negotiation -- similar to the purchase of factory equipment or other materials.

In the West, auction houses possess strict recourse in civil court -- to wield a paddle here, you must sign a contract. The Chinese legal system has no similar forum of dispute resolution.

If you wish to consign Grandma's Ming vase, make sure you stipulate that the buyer place a good-faith deposit, or that you obtain a guarantee from the auction house.

Otherwise, your transaction may be messier than a plate of Moo Goo Gai Pan.

Savvy Sunday,