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Pleasure in the Process
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At that time, relying on his income from being an editor and some payments for his articles, Ma Weidu collected a great many pieces of porcelain that he liked. In addition to picking out treasures at stalls, Ma Weidu often went to Zhang, a scrap collector in the south of the city, to seek out treasures. This old man, who pushed a flatbed tricycle, collecting waste in Beijing’s urban villages. At that time, many farmers heard that their family heirlooms could earn them some money, so they went to town to try to sell them. Zhang would stop them at the edge of the city, and get his hands on all sorts of old furniture, ancient porcelain and pottery. He then made a tidy profit by selling them on to antique dealers in the city. Later, Zhang hung a sign at his gate: specialized in the collection and sale of second-hand items.

After he found Zhang, Ma Weidu discovered that he actually knew nothing about antiques, he only knew that old things cost more than new ones, as for how much they are worth, he knew nothing at all. When dealing with Zhang, Ma Weidu did not reveal that he was a connoisseur, he simply offered a little more money than the others did. As a result, Ma Weidu obtained many interesting items from Zhang.

At the time, because of a general lack of awareness of the value of cultural relics, the market was very immature. Even genuine items were hard to sell. We could not say there were no forgeries, but there were very few. Genuine items were almost free of charge. At that time, cultural relics that had been scattered were generally collected by hawkers for two or three yuan each from the countryside, who then sold them very cheaply, maybe for five or six yuan. At that time, if you had good luck, you could even pan for treasures without paying for them: when some sellers saw that buyers liked something, they would then say, just take it away, and they would not even ask for money. At that time, I knew some old people in cultural circles or who were of a high social status, and there were a lot of antiques in their homes. Every time they bought vegetables or coal, I would offer to help carry them. And when I had finished, I would have a look at their antiques. At this time, some of the old people would ask, do you like these things? I would say, yes, I was born to like these things. The old man would say, well, if you like it, just take it home. He also seized another opportunity: at the time when teachers’ pay and conditions were improving, I often went to Beijing University to collect furniture. Many people were busy moving to new homes at the time, and they disliked their old furniture as they thought it was too awkward, so they did not want it, and some even simply threw it away. Therefore, I often went there to buy something at that time, buying up to 29 items on one occasion. In those years, the people that did not have cultural relics at home could not be called intellectuals. Ma Weidu is very proud of that.

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