China Daily has just reported a “Chinese calligraphy work sold for record $57.1M” at the Poly 2010 Spring Auction on June 4, 2010. This record price puts Ming Dizhu’s work within the same league as van Gogh and Picasso in terms of how much was fetched from an auction (“Portrait of Dr. Gachet,” $139million, inflation adjusted, van Gogh; “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust”, $106million, inflation adjusted, Picasso).
According to a Boston Consulting Group report in late 2009, the number of millionaires in China has reached around 450,000 by the end of 2009. Given the fact that China’s GDP has grown 8% to 10% annually for the last three decades, two phenomenons have occurred:
a. Demand for Chinese art has increased because Chinese citizens have become wealthier.
b. Supply for Chinese art (contemporary) has increased because more Chinese are freed from subsistence to pursue art.
In turn, the international art market expects Chinese art to become even more valuable for the above two reasons. Foreign collectors – private individuals and museums alike collect Chinese art. Collectors also exhibit because further popularizing the pieces enhances the art’s value. (Here is a collection of works by some popular contemporary Chinese artist in Beijing – Art Scene Beijing.)
Chinese artists views and interpretations of our world then gets seen by the world. Ever wonder how culture spreads? I have told many of my friends who are interested in Chinese culture that the coming decades will see an explosion of it. All of this boils down to the simple fact that China is growing 8% to 10% in GDP every year! I expect China will some day have her versions of household name pieces like “Mona Lisa.”
These two phenomenons apply to other aspects of Chinese culture too.
John Woo directed and released an epic two-part film, “Red Cliff” in 2008 and 2009 that set a number of records also. It was the highest budgeted Asian film to date, at $80million. The part one film broke the box office record in Mainland China previously set by Titanic. China Daily reported a Beijing University event in March 27, 2010, where John Woo was present, and it had this to say about him and “Red Cliff:”
Red Cliff, a two-part series, is the highest-grossing Chinese movie in Asia. The film expanded the normal concept of what makes a hero, before traditionally considered mainly to be a stylized individual fighting bad guys to save the world.
“A genuine hero is not someone who wins a battle or kills evil,” Woo said. “A hero should love everyone like his own son.”
The important point here is that values portrayed in movies made by Chinese, if successful, can challenge the values presented by Americans via Hollywood on the world stage. The Battle of “Red Cliff” took place 208-209 AD at the end of the Han Dynasty. This started the period of Chinese history commonly known in Asia as the “Three Kingdoms” period. “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms” is a Chinese classic based on this history, and arguably, it is a classic too in Korea and Japan. Many books, television series, and video games we see today from these countries are inspired by it. American teenagers playing “Dynasty Warriors” on their PlayStation or XBox will instantly find “Red Cliff” characters familiar.
See the connection on how culture spreads?
John Woo will set yet another record. He is reportedly making a $170million movie in collaboration with Hollywood about the Flying Tigers, telling of the partnership between China and America fighting to drive back the WWII invading Japanese army from China. China Daily continues:
“It’s a hot subject which always fascinates Hollywood. I have flown to Kunming to look for their previous headquarters and the draft script has already been finished,” said Woo.
He added that the new film would shoot air battle scenes in Yunnan province.
He revealed that actor Tom Cruise might be invited to play the role of the Flying Tigers’ founder, Claire Lee Chennault.
Why are all these records being set? You have guessed it! China is growing 8% to 10% in GDP annually means more people can afford to go see movies. With higher demand, people like Johh Woo can argue for bigger budgets. The chance for more world-class directors to emerge out of China also increases, again, because more people are freed from subsistence farming to pursue other activities, including film-making.