Antique artifacts, ranging from furniture to designer bags were on display during a Toronto Vintage show that has become a hotspot for vintage shoppers and antique lovers alike. We were amazed by the delicate sculptures as my mother and I were strolling down aisles after aisles of vintage exhibits.
Most vendors at the show were in a life-long collection business that has been passed on from generation to generation.
“I have been a vintage collector since I was 16,” a vendor with Italian heritage who stood beside several hundreds of collections told me with pride. “Most of the products here were from my uncle and my father, both of them had passed their entire collection of art products to me before they died.”
His words have triggered emotional reactions from my 80-year-old mother as it cracked open her nostalgic memories:
“I had some valuable antiques of the Ming Dynasty that has been passed on from my grandfather –including expensive furniture and paintings… Your grandma (her mother in law) has also given me several pieces of jade bangle bracelets, gold bars when I just got married with your father… But they have all either been lost or destroyed during the Cultural Revolution,” said my mother.
I’ve heard my mother talking about her ancestors’ antiques many times. She was born into a family of wealthy intellectuals and had the privilege of being exposed to antique collecting during her early childhood. Her grandpa was an art collector who had inherited tangible cultural artifacts from his ancestors.
The Chinese Cultural Revolution was a campaign that brought an end to the so called Four Olds – Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits and Old Ideas, which were dubbed monsters and demons. They were also described as anti-proletarian that poisoned the mind of people for thousands of years.
Red Guards, dressed in old army jackets, were the evilest force at the time. They would break into citizens’ homes to destroy all the items that were viewed as Four Olds – from jewelleries and furniture to paintings and books. They would not only wreak havoc on cultural relics, but also prosecute intellectuals who had secretively kept these items in their homes. This “vigilante justice” spared no one as millions of innocent people were persecuted, tortured or even beaten to death.
随着恐怖和暴力不断升级，许多珍贵的艺术品不是毁在红卫兵手下，而是被艺术品持有者 主动销毁。比如我的一个叔叔就在红卫兵发起另一轮突袭之前，抢先烧毁了我母亲房中的 古董风扇和精美瓷器等所有被认为会惹祸上身的藏品。
Amid the escalating terror and violence, many valuable items were destroyed not only by the Red Guards, but by the owners themselves. Prior to another round of Red Guard raids, one of my uncles had burned all the items in my mother’s home that were deemed troublesome – from antique fans to fine china.
Undoubtedly, the Cultural Revolution has eradicated China’s antique industry, reducing it to nothing or non-existence. But decades later, the rapid economic growth in China has created millions wealthy elites who, seek safe havens for their assets, increasingly set their sights on expensive antiques. As a result, art buying surges in China and antique fairs around the world have begun adapting their catalogues to appeal to the taste of a new generation of Chinese antique collectors.
But rapid growth in wealth cannot quickly fill the vast cultural vacuum left by the disastrous legacy of the Cultural Revolution. Today, many Chinese art collectors are still “visual buyers” who lack the knowledge and skills in recognizing the real values of antiques or arts.
And that cultural vacuum has also destroyed the childhood dreams of my mother who had aspired to be an art collector.
“If all these items from my grandpa were not destroyed, I could have set up a booth here today that beats most of the venders!” she said.
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