Exquisite Chinese Jades Spanning Two Thousand Years to Go Under Hammer in Hong Kong

In the coming Hong Kong autumn sales, Bonhams is going to present a sale dedicated to the collection of Durwin Tang (1955-2018), an avid collector of ancient jades, offering near 200 exquisite Chinese jades spanning 2000 years from the Han dynasty (206BC-AD200) to Qing dynasty (1644-1911).

Jade occupied a prominent position in the ancient Chinese civilisation. The history of jade in China has a long and uninterrupted history with a unique artistic style. It is renowned for its fine and smooth texture as well as its rich styling and superb craftsmanship. Here are some highlights not to be missed from the sale.

Leading the sale is a white and russet jade carving of a bear from the Western Han Dynasty (206BC-AD 8), estimated at HK$4m-6m (US$510,000-770,000). This 5.7cm-long white jade sculpture of a bear represents the powerful beast caught in the midst of movement, with its left foreleg ready to pace forward ahead of the already extended right foreleg. This potent and powerful posture is characteristic to natural representations in jade and in bronze of Han dynasty bears, tigers and other wild beasts. However, jade sculptures in comparison to other carvings such as chimeras, are very rare.

From the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) onwards, and probably even much earlier, bears have also been linked with military prowess, shamanism, and immortality. As a corollary, it might be noted that the words for 'bear' and 'virility' are exact homonyms, pronounced xiong.

A yellow jade ‘heavenly’ horse, Tianma from Song Dynasty or earlier, is estimated at HK$1.5m-2m (US$190,000-26,000). Jade carvings as the present lot, like its life-size stone counterparts, were not merely a sumptuous and highly prized display and handling objects, but were most likely perceived to have an important protective spiritual function in life and death.

Estimated at HK$1m-1.5m (US$130,000-190,000), a white jade carving of a qilin carrying the heavenly books from the Qianlong period (1736-1795) carved the mythical beast in a recumbent posture with its head turned back, its clasped jaws holding a lingzhi fungus spray supported on its back and surmounted by a pile of books, tian shu. This representation of a qilin is reflective of Qing taste and sensibilities. Earlier representations of mythical beasts were commonly exaggerated in their grotesque, fearsome and mysterious nature.

A 9cm-long pale green and russet jade ‘prunus’ water dropper and cover from the late Ming/early Qing dynasty carries an estimate of HK$500,000-800,000 (US$64,000-100,000). The small size of the present jade vessel indicates it was likely used as water dropper for the scholar's desk rather than a tea or wine pot, making it a particularly rare example.


A white jade openwork ‘boys and firecrackers’ boulder from the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) is estimated at HK$300,000-500,000 (US$38,000-64,000). The boulder crisply carved in openwork in the form of irregular pierced rocks within a fenced garden setting, deeply carved in the round to one side with three boys, one lighting a firecracker and two standing behind covering their ears, the reverse with two further boys climbing up the rocky mountain.

The superb quality of the multi-depth carving of this jade boulder creates a full three-dimensional sense, whilst the finely rendered details of the figures enrich the realistic impression. The imaginative composition is particularly successful in the confined size of the jade stone and brings to mind the well-known portrait of the Qianlong emperor celebrating New Year with his family, depicting a boy lighting a firecracker.


An Exceedingly Rare and Important White and Russet Jade Carving of a Bear
Western Han Dynasty

Lot no.: 108
Length: 5.7cm

  • Piasa, Paris, 3 - 4 April 2006, lot 170
  • Durwin Tang Collection

Estimate: HK$4,000,000 - 6,000,000

An Exceptionally Rare and Important Yellow Jade 'Heavenly' Horse, Tianma
Song Dynasty or Earlier

Lot no.: 110
Length: 7.6cm

  • Timothy Allan Lewis (1937-2004) and Fran Lewis, Melplash Court, Dorset
  • Duke's, Dorchester, 23 September 2010, lot 1018
  • Durwin Tang Collection

Estimate: HK$1,500,000 - 2,000,000

A Very Fine White Jade Carving of a Qilin Carrying the Heavenly Books

Lot no.: 137
Length: 7.6cm

  • An English private collection, acquired in Hong Kong in the 1950s
  • Christie's London, 14 May 2013, lot 68
  • Durwin Tang Collection

Estimate: HK$1,500,000 - 2,000,000

A Small Pale Green and Russet Jade 'Prunus' Water Dropper and Cover
Late Ming/early Qing Dynasty

Lot no.: 171
Length: 9cm

  • An English private collection, acquired in London before 2000
  • Christie's South Kensington, London, 17 May 2013, lot 1315
  • Durwin Tang Collection

Estimate: HK$500,000 - 800,000

A Very Rare White Jade Openwork 'Boys and Firecrackers' Boulder
Qing Dynasty

Lot no.: 170
Length: 11cm
Provenance: Durwin Tang Collection
Estimate: HK$300,000 - 500,000

Auction details

Auction house: Bonhams Hong Kong
Sale: Tang's Hall of Precious - The Durwin Tang Collection of Chinese Jades
Lots offered: 91
23 – 26 November 2018|10am - 7pm
27 November 2018|10am - 12:30pm
Auction date: 27 November 2018|3pm