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A mirror to society

Updated: 2012-12-27 14:31
Source:Shanghai Daily

Weeks ago Shanghai Museum received the donation of 90 sets of ancient bronze mirrors from Lloyd E Cotsen, an art collector and philanthropist from Los Angeles.

An exhibition entitled "World in Mirror: Selected Bronze Mirrors from Lloyd Cotsen's Donation" is now running at the museum, presenting the distinctive charms of ancient bronzes from China's different periods. Some of the artifacts on display are considered priceless.

"Mr and Mrs Costen once visited the Shanghai Museum during a stay in China and were impressed by its collections. They believe that returning these mirrors to where they came from is the best way to help China protect its cultural heritage," said Chen Xiejun, executive director at Shanghai Museum.

To show its gratitude to collectors who have donated work over the past decades, Shanghai Museum has created a wall in its lobby on which are the names of people who have enriched its collections through donations of Buddhist statues, ancient ink-wash paintings, ceramics and bronzes.

"Since we were established in 1952, almost 1,000 people - from both home and abroad - have donated collections to the museum," said Chen Kelun, vice-director at the museum.

"It's mutual respect, as we also express our gratitude to those donors. I always remember the saying from Zhou Enlai, China's first premier, that people who make generous donations to our museums should be treated well," said Chen.

Expressions of thanks can take many forms. The museum paid medical fees for one collector during a hospital stay and purchased a small apartment in Suzhou, Shanghai's neighoring Jiangsu Province for another donor who wanted to spend her remaining days there.

"We try with our best efforts to help and support collectors when they turn to our museum," Chen said. "This is something they deserve.

"We hope that more Chinese collectors will consider Shanghai Museum on their list for donations," added the vice-director.

New trend of donation

However, of late this may be less likely, as many Chinese entrepreneurs have ambitions to create their own museums to display their collections of artifacts.

In Shanghai, Liu Yiqian, who made his fortune on the stock market, and Indonesian-Chinese entrepreneur Yu Deyao are opening private museums.

"There are many reasons behind this trend," said Zhan Hao, a local art critic. "If you donate a collection to a public museum, you can't guarantee that it will permanently display all your artifacts. Sometimes only a small portion is on show."

Owning a private museum lets collectors display all their works. If the space is big enough, and the collection impressive enough, it can be presented to the public in a comprehensive and focused manner.

"Show-off behavior from the rich classes is nothing new," Zhan said. "During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) the trend among rich Chinese families was to have their own personal Peking Opera company, at an annual cost of 200,000 grams of silver."

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