AFP

HONG KONG

Chinese tycoon Liu Yiqian splashed out nearly HK$114 million ($14.71 million) on an ancient vase at auction in Hong Kong Tuesday - his latest expensive purchase of a rare artefact originally from the mainland. The simple octagonal piece, an 800-year-old Southern Song Dynasty work tinted a milky blue, broke the guide price of $7.7 million at the sale by Sotheby’s. Taxi-driver-turned-financier Liu - chairman of investment company Sunline Group - is one of China’s wealthiest men and among the country’s new class of super-rich scouring the globe for artworks.

The 51 year-old broke the world auction record for Chinese porcelain in April last year when he bought a Ming Dynasty wine cup - known as the “chicken cup” - for $36 million, which he subsequently famously drank tea from.

In November he snapped up a Tibetan silk tapestry for $45 million at Christie’s in Hong Kong, setting another world record for any Chinese work of art sold by an international auction house.

Liu, who also owns his own museum in Shanghai, has said he is on a mission to bring ancient Chinese artefacts back to the country. “My museum and myself will participate in bidding in future when we see good artwork,” he said during a visit to Hong Kong last month to take up the ownership of the 600-year-old tapestry.

Liu beat seven other prospective buyers in Tuesday’s auction at which he was bidding by telephone, said Nicolas Chow, Sotheby’s international head of Chinese ceramics and works of art.

Chow said the unexpectedly high price indicated a buoyant market and strong demand for Chinese antiques. “We are absolutely thrilled with the price for the vase,” he told reporters. “To say it is a masterpiece would be an understatement.” Chow said the piece would go to Liu’s Long Museum in Shanghai.

The 20-centimetre-tall (eight-inch) vase is part of a rare collection crafted for the imperial court. At the same auction Tuesday, a Qing emperor’s seal crafted from white jade was sold for $13.5 million - nearly three times the pre-auction estimate - to an undisclosed buyer, Sotheby’s said.