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Traditions a Treasure for China
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It's not hard to guess Liu Chao's hobby once you have entered his home.

The walls, floors and shelves are covered with hundreds of antiques, including more than 100 censers from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties he has collected since 2004.

Liu began collecting antiques more than 20 years ago, and his hobby now plays a major role in his life.

"Collecting antiques is an integral part of my life," said the 53-year-old, who works as an editor at a local magazine "Prosecutorial View."

Liu has been obsessed with ancient artworks since he was a little boy. This obsession, coupled with his perseverance, has seen Liu skyrocket to the top of the antique authentication field. He was elected vice chairman of the Shanghai Collectors' Association in 1986.

Two years ago, Liu decided to focus his collection on censers, a traditional Chinese vessel in which incense is burned, especially during religious services. Censers were used through all of China's dynasties.

"Censers are the most elegant among all the Chinese porcelain. They were used to perform sacrifices by emperors of all dynasties, making them auspicious as they contain many wishes," he said.

"I spend all my spare time on this hobby, writing essays, doing research on authentication and visiting curio markets," said Liu, who uses his vacation time to travel the country looking for ancient censers.

"I enjoy the process of pursuing and picking the treasures out among so many fakes in curio markets, during which I improve my authentication skills. Now I can tell which dynasty an antique belongs to as soon as I see it."

Understanding China is key to authenticating antiques, he says.

"You must be familiar with Chinese history and geography. Only by understanding the characteristics of appliances in every dynasty, can you begin to know how to authenticate antiques," he said.

Not satisfied to simply understand authentication, Liu wants to spread his knowledge to as many people as possible. He has given lectures on campus and in prisons.

"These antiques are more than ornaments. They are traditional arts and handicrafts that represent China's long history and should be well preserved," he said. "We need to promote and cherish our traditional culture, as it is the real treasure of our nation."

Now he wants to write a book on authenticating antiques and hold a show of his own.

"I've been collecting censers for a long time. I hope to hold a show to share my experience and happiness with those who have the same hobby."

(China Daily December 21, 2006)

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