The passion for Chinese history and culture is celebrated in the art of collecting antique Chinese statues. Through the centuries Chinese artisans have employed many materials to create magnificent sculptures and statues. These include bronze, jade, porcelain and pottery, copper, stone, bone, brass, iron, and silver. In general, the older a piece is, the higher its value. However, rarity and history also affect the value of any piece of art. Many statues were a one-time creation, never to be duplicated. As such, antique Chinese statues in good condition are rare. Ultimately, items from this period will always increase in value, so they are considered a good investment.
The History of Antique Chinese Statues
Chinese statues are much sought after in the art world of sculptures. One of the most common images in antique Chinese statuary is the Buddha. His serene face and relaxed yogic poses bring peace and calmness to its beholders. Like most Buddhist art, religious statues are designed to remind Buddha's followers of eternal truths. The earliest images showed him with a pair of Bodhisattvas, enlightened beings who became popular sculptural figures in their own right. He is also often shown being supported by lions, as lions were long thought to have magical powers of protection. This is why lion statues can often be found guarding temples. Interestingly, it is doubtful that the ancient Chinese had ever seen a real lion. More likely, they modelled their guardian lion statues after native dogs. These sculptures came to be known as Foo Dogs, or Fu Dogs, and are commonly found outside offices, temples, and offices.
Discover Antique Chinese Statues
Chinese artisans have been carving jade for thousands of years. Chinese culture holds jade to be a precious stone that links the physical and spiritual realms. Jade has been turned into legendary figures, flora, fauna, landscapes, celestial bodies, mythological creatures, religious icons, and symbols of good fortune. One of the most popular jade motifs is an abstract object called a ruyi. Its cloud-like head and S-shaped tail have led many experts to believe the true function of the ruyi was that of an ancient back-scratcher. Elaborately carved and often made of expensive materials such as jade, the ruyi is thought to bring power, leadership, and wealth.
Beginning around 2000 BC, the Bronze Age includes both the Shang and Zhou dynasties. While bronze metallurgy, which combines copper and tin, was also going on in other parts of the world, it is believed to have developed independently in China. As a result of this, Chinese bronze work is quite unique from the western tradition. Some of the most accomplished Chinese bronze work can be found in weapons, ritual vessels, jewellery and statues.
Parts of Antique Chinese Statues
The most common Chinese artefacts that can be classed as statues are made of bronze. This method allowed highly decorative patterns to be carved or stamped directly on the inner surface of the mould before it was fired, thus achieving a high degree of sharpness and definition in even the most intricate designs. Other statues employed various materials and methods through reign of different Chinese dynasties.
2000 BC to 200 AD spanning the Shang and Zhou dynasties
Bronze working combines copper and tin in a piece-mould casting method. First a model is made of the object, and then a clay mould is taken of the model. This is cut into sections, which are then fired and reassembled. For ritual and food vessel, a core is placed inside the mould to create the cavity.
Nephrite: Liangzhu culture from 3400–2250 BC and Hongshan culture from 4700–2200 BC
Jadeite: imported from Burma to China only after about 1800.
Classed separately from other stones due to its high esteem and value, the term jade applies to two different types of metamorphic rocks: nephrite and jadeite. Nephrite is creamy white but can also be found in a variety of green colours. Jadeite can be blue, lavender-mauve, pink, and emerald-green. Jade is so hard that it cannot even be cut by steel. As such, it is not carved, but slowly shaped using harder stones like quartz sand or crushed garnet.
Pre-dynastic period through to Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)
Chinese porcelain is a combination of kaolin, pottery stone, feldspar and quartz. It is an umbrella term including all ceramic ware that is white and translucent.
The two primary categories of ceramics are high-fired and low-fired, though a further classification exists between northern or southern origin.
Pre-dynastic period through to Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)
Carving was done on any stone that could achieve lustre after polishing, including agate, turquoise, malachite, chalcedony, quartz, jasper, and lapis lazuli, were also appreciated.
Song Dynasty through to Qing Dynasty (960-1911)
There are three major categories: architecture, furniture and artworks.
Wood used includes soft or less hard species such as pine, China fir, camphor tree, nanmu and gingko.
Western Zhou Dynasty to Qing Dynasty (1046 BC-1911)
Pure copper is still used to make statues and figurines, though metallurgical processes discovered thousands of years ago saw copper alloyed with other materials like tin and zinc for strength.
Han Dynasty through to Qing Dynasty (202 BC to 1911)
An alloy of copper and zinc, brass is ideal for statues due to its bright, glittering appearance that resembles gold.
Types of Antique Chinese Statues
The meaning of Chinese symbols revolves around good fortune and positive elements. The Chinese believe that by filling their lives with lucky objects and images, they will increase their prosperity and make their existence more joyful and fulfilling. These symbols and signs have graced their architecture, language, artwork, and everyday objects for centuries.
Spiritual leader on whose teachings Buddhism was founded.
Buddha title means the most awakened being of an era.
Buddhism arrived in China around 1000 AD and introduced new, strong Chinese traits into Buddha statuary.
Legendary creatures typically portrayed as long, scaled, serpentine creatures with four legs.
Ultimate symbol of cosmic Chi (energy) and traditionally symbolises potent and auspicious powers.
In yin and yang terminology, a dragon is yang and complements a yin fenghuang (the Chinese phoenix).
Combines the face of a swallow, the beak of a rooster, the forehead of a fowl, the neck of a snake, the breast of a goose, the hindquarters of a stag, the back of a tortoise and the tail of a fish.
The phoenix only appears in areas or places that are blessed with utmost peace and prosperity or happiness.
In yin and yang terminology, a phoenix is yin and complements a yang dragon.
Represent ferocity, dignity and courage.
Regarded as the God of Wealth in certain areas of China.
Also a symbol of protection, and can be placed outside the home.
The lions are always created in pairs, with the male resting his paw upon the world and the female restraining a playful cub that is on its back.
The female fu lion protects those dwelling inside, while the male guards the structure.
Sometimes the female has her mouth closed, and the male open. This symbolises the enunciation of the sacred word "om."
Factors to Consider When Buying an Antique Chinese Statue
- Definition of Porcelain - The term porcelain lacks a universally accepted definition, which creates confusion about when the first Chinese porcelain was made. Some claims go as early as the late Eastern Han period (100-200 AD) or the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 AD). Other experts maintain proper porcelain does not make an appearance until either the Six Dynasties period (220-589 AD) or the Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD).
- Fakes and reproductions – There is a long tradition of borrowing design and decorative features from earlier wares. While problematic for identification, these works would not generally be regarded as either reproductions or fakes. However, fakes and reproductions have also been made at many times during the long history of Chinese ceramics and continue to be made today in ever-increasing numbers.
- Value of late stone – The Qing dynasty (1644–1911) was a highpoint for stone statuary, when an abundant supply of raw materials became available. Excellent craftsmen and strong imperial patronage also combine to make this era, while relatively late, extremely attractive for collecting.
- Primary wood region - Dongyang County of Zhejiang Province is revered by many as the home of carving. Dongyang woodcarving started from the Tang Dynasty developed in the Song Dynasty and became popular in the Ming and Qing dynasties.
- Valuation - Size is a primary consideration with respect to placement. A Chinese statue placed next to a big vase on the table will probably need to be bigger than a figurine placed on a desk in an office. However, like most other types of art, the size of a statue does not necessarily correlate directly with the value. Age, detail and craftsmanship will figure prominently in determining value
- Jadeite vs. Nephrite - Jadeite is rarer than nephrite, documented in fewer than 12 places worldwide. Jadeite was imported from Burma to China only after about 1800. It quickly became almost as popular as nephrite and a favourite of Qing Dynasty's nouveau riche.
Typical Features of Antique Chinese Statues
Below is a list of some of the more common features of antique Chinese statues.
1. Quality and beauty
Any antique Chinese statue will have been made with the utmost care and craftsmanship. Whether it’s bronze, jade, ceramic or some other material, it should have maintained its high production value and beauty.
2. Dynastic design
An antique Chinese statue should exemplify the style and motifs from the era it was made. Shapes, colours and details do differ somewhat from period to period.
How to Care for Antique Chinese Statues
Antiques will quickly lose their value if the original tarnish or patina is altered or removed. The passage of time may also have made the colour a little darker or lighter, but it would be detrimental to the value to try to alter the colour in any way.
Avoid using any special cleaners other than a mild soap and water. It is best to consult with a professional who can look at the individual piece to determine the best cleaning method. Ultimately, if dust and dirt isn’t bothersome, it’s really best to leave the piece alone.
Popular Dynasties for Antique Chinese Statues
Antique Chinese statues are best considered by the dynasties in which they were made.
- Western Han
- Eastern Han
- Three Kingdoms
- Western Jin
- Eastern Jin
- Southern and Northern
- Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms
- Northern Song
- Southern Song
- Western Xia
Accessories and Add-ons for Antique Chinese Statues
An antique Chinese statue is a rare and valuable piece, and should be cared for accordingly. You might want to consider purchasing a glass display case to better protect and show off your statue. If it’s extremely valuable, installing a dedicated alarm system for the display case is also an option.
Finding Antique Chinese Statues on eBay
Once you determine the type of antique Chinese statue you want to purchase, visit the Antiques portal on eBay, click on the Chinese sub-category and start searching item listings. The Categories list on the left-hand side of the eBay page helps to narrow the search.
Searching for Antique Chinese Statues on eBay
Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for antique Chinese statues. For example, to find a bronze Buddha statue from the Qing period, type ‘statue, Buddha, bronze, Qing Dynasty’ into the search box, and then click the Advanced button to customise the results. Also visit eBay’s Search Tips page for more advice on searching for Qing period bronze Buddha statues with keywords. If you can’t find the exact antique Chinese statue you want, try shopping eBay Stores.
Antique Chinese statues cover a period of thousands of years. You may want to search for items from a particular dynasty. Alternatively, you may want to collect only certain types of statues, like lions, for example. You should also take some time to consider which material and colour best suits the decor of the intended destination. Once you have collected this information, you can buy an antique Chinese statue safely and securely on eBay.