Paul Harris 1948-2018

Paul Harris

It is with great sadness that we announce that Paul Harris, founder and editor of this website, recently passed away. Obituaries have appeared in the Telegraph and the Herald. Below is also a reading from Paul’s funeral which paints a picture the remarkable life that he lived.

Website for sale

This website is now up for sale – interested parties please contact our agent here. Continuously updated since 2013, it is the number one Chinese art blog on the internet, featuring over 500 fascinating and entertaining posts about the world of Chinese art and antiques. Hopefully someone equally passionate and knowledgeable about this field will be able to continue Paul’s legacy.

A reading from Paul’s funeral

Behind the elegant and sophisticated front that Paul Harris presented to the people of Coldingham is a story that could have provided scripts for a dozen films. One was even made, pirating the story of his involvement in the swashbuckling life of early pirate radio.

Later years saw him in the wildly dangerous world of the war correspondent and on the run from an assassination threat from the Taliban and separately from the Tamil Tigers.

Paul was born in July 1948 in Bexley Heath in Kent, the only son of senior (and highly decorated) RAF officer Desmond Harris and his wife Rita. His first school was Bradford Grammar in Yorkshire, before, on demob, the family moved to Scotland, to Elgin, where he enrolled at Elgin Academy. Success, with a good university entrance leaving certificate, brought him to Aberdeen University. There he enjoyed to the full the non-academic, but did succeed in acquiring a degree, an MA which included, prophetically, politics and international relations.


Meanwhile the music industry, dominated by dictatorial record companies were being challenged in their stranglehold on music and songs and singers by the first of the pirate radio stations. Paul had been Project Manager for Capital Radio. He wrote and published, with his friend Malcolm Forbes a book on the ship based stations, When Pirates Ruled the Waves. No publisher would touch it, but with the sort of advert that anticipated social media by some forty years, three mailbags arrived the following day packed with orders – and payments for the book. An early version of vanity publishing, of which Paul was justly proud. With the massive profits he and Malcolm bought themselves fabulous cars. It was ironic that the book itself was subject to piracy, without even a penny to Paul. It was the inspiration for the film, The Boat That Rocked, starring among others Bill Nighy. Box office receipts are believed to have been over 36 million US dollars.


Paul went on to publish many books and wrote 44 himself ranging from art history to acute observations of the war zones he was to cover. He published Dictionary of Scottish Painters, 1600 to the Present (2001), highly regarded as a reference to this day.

Photography was an essential part of Paul’s life from an early age. His first published picture when he was fourteen, was of a man being saved from drowning in Aberdeen harbour. Wherever he worked or reported, his camera was there. Many of his books caught on film scenes and events that could never adequately be described in words.

In the late 1980s Paul got involved in the conversion of the magnificent Whittinghame House near Haddington, once the home of Arthur Balfour, Prime Minister from 1902-1905.

Wanderlust took over and for more than ten years Paul worked as a freelance journalist and photographer in many of the more difficult, war-torn parts of the world. He reported for newspapers, magazines, radio and TV on a multitude of conflicts from Sarajevo under siege, the anarchy of Albania and the bloodletting in Algeria, to wars in the jungles of Sri Lanka, the bush of southern Sudan and benighted Somalia.


He had an instinct for survival. His plane was destroyed by a fighter aircraft on the runway in Ljubljana as the wars in Yugoslavia broke out in 1991. He was close enough to witness the explosion which completely destroyed the centre of the Sri Lankan capital in 1996, from where he was expelled in 2002 after pressure from the rebel Tamil Tigers.


He almost died in Kosovo from some unsought close contact with dead bodies when they opened a mass grave of massacred Muslims. He worked in China for The Shanghai Daily newspaper and in Colombo for The Daily Telegraph, but it was his work for almost a decade, for Jane’s Intelligence Review, and the murky world of intelligence gathering, which would ultimately force his early retirement after international terrorists issued a directive for his assassination.


Paul wrote and broadcast for many branches of the media including the BBC, Sky News, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman, as well as the above mentioned. He was winner in the British Press Awards in 1993 for his reporting from Bosnia. His books up to this time included Somebody Else’s War, Cry Bosnia, About Face: Photographs from the Streets of Shanghai and Fractured Paradise: Images of Sri Lanka.

Based in Sri Lanka in 2001, he met and fell in love with a young Chinese lady Sulee, who was to become his wife two years later. His beloved daughter Lucy was born to the nomadic couple in Shanghai where Paul had been head-hunted to join the English-language Shanghai Daily, a position he held for two and a half years. A brief stay in Scotland, then off to Malta, and a switch in career: lecturing in Art and History on small, selective cruise ships (an interest he kept up for the rest of his life, going to the Arctic, the Mediterranean, and many other destinations where his lectures were highly prized.)


The call of Scotland lured him back with Sulee and Lucy in 2009 to live in North Berwick for two years, before deciding that Coldingham was the place where he would choose to settle permanently.

His interest in, and deep knowledge of Asian Art, especially Vietnamese modern painting, and ceramics, paintings and wooden furniture and carvings from China brought him to a new career with Sulee, whose tastes in the Arts were similar to his, and whose knowledge of Chinese language proved invaluable.

Paul Harris and Sun Yumei at the Songjiang studio of renowned sculptor Chen Dapeng

The little gallery they established at their home in the High Street became a great success, with the two of them haunting the auctions and antique fairs of Scotland and England to find and identify some rare treasures from the Orient. Paul’s marketing skills quickly established him as a respected source for the finest of objects from China and elsewhere, often sharing with friends the delight he experienced on finding a rare Ming vase, an exquisite carving or an equally beautiful Chinese creation.


Just over a year ago, Paul and Sulee acquired a large commercial building adjoining their house, and the idea of launching an antique and fine art auction was conceived. This became a team effort for the family, with Lucy contributing the essential skills of modern information technology, ably handling the internet bids as they came live on the screen in front of her, and Paul revelling in his role of auctioneer.


The auctions took off, and the family is determined to build on the strong foundations they have made along with Paul. Sulee is taking over as auctioneer, and will mount the rostrum for the first time at the next Coldingham Borders Auction in the High Street on Saturday June 23rd – in Paul’s honour. (NB. The next auction has now been postponed, so it will not take place on this date.)

Many of these facts have been gleaned from the autobiography Paul was persuaded to write in 2009; he dedicated it to his beloved baby daughter Lucy, then aged five. More Thrills Than Skills summed up Paul’s view of himself, modestly down-playing his extensive achievements, but acknowledging that he had been lucky to have such an interesting, diverse and satisfying life.

Oh, and we forgot to mention that he loved beer and pubs, and Coldingham got top marks for its hostelries, and the friends he made over many a pint in one or other of his locals.

May he rest in peace, and we hope the beer is good in Heaven (with the occasional therapeutic Gin and Tonic).

JM and RH

Chorleys well satisfied with delayed sale of Republican porcelain

88 new

Lot 88  Pair of Meiping vases achieved £8,000 at Chorleys

Auctioneer Chorleys is reported to be well satisfied with the delayed sale (due to snow!) of Republic period, and earlier, porcelain which took place March 27 and which we wrote about earlier

The morning opened with the Asian section attracting frenetic bidding over the telephones, extra busy internet activity and a packed saleroom.  In particular, there was huge interest from China, the USA and the UK trade with most of the highest bids ending up via the internet.The Asian section offered an important local collection of Republic era porcelain with the highlight being Lot 75, a set of four rectangular porcelain plaques by Bi Botao (1885-1961) representing the four seasons.

Bi Botao was a member of the well-known group ‘The Eight Friends of Zhushan’.  Lot 75 Four Chinese porcelain rectangular plaques, signed and with one artist seal by Bi Botao (1885-1961), dated 1932, sold for £16,000. The group comprised the best porcelain artists of the period and revitalized the Chinese porcelain industry after the political unrest in 19th century China and the subsequent fall of the Qing dynasty.  The plaques, delicately painted with frogs, a spider, turtles and a snake respectively, were acquired from Peter Wain’s ‘Millenium List’, 1999 for £3,000 and sold at Chorley’s for £16,000.

From the same collection, Lot 83, a Chinese porcelain circular seal paste box, painted by Wang Yeting, fetched £4,000 against an estimate of £600-800 while Lot 88, a pair of Chinese porcelain Meiping vases, inscribed with a poem and symbols of immortality, realised £6,000.  Elsewhere in the oriental section, of excellent quality and highly decorative, Lot 16, a garniture of three Chinese famille verte vases from the Kangxi period, fetched £7,500.

Mao still remains an adored cult figure immortalised in statuary

Mao busts at museum Taiyuan Shanxi Prov Orientally YoursThere is a museum dedicated to the memory of Mao Tse Tung in Taiyuan in China’s Shanxi Province. Here is a display of small busts and figures. Such statuary has been made, and is still being made, as souvenirs and keepsakes. There are still many Mao followers about despite widespread controversy of his Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution policies which, many people think, caused widespread distress and death amongst fellow Chinese.

Shao shan HunanManufacturing busts and staues of Mao still goes on. A photo taken in a factory in his home town of Shaoshan.

tumblr_oon2xxjYAi1rrpskqo3_1280 Dang Guihong owns a vast collection of materials related to the Cultural Revolution. Here he is pictured with a part of his collection at his home in Yuncheng, Shanxi Province.

mao-best-low-res This is thought to be a unique two-thirds life size porcelain statue of Mao Tse Tung. One of just two made in Jingdezhen and numbered ‘2’, it is dated October 1 1967, when the Cultural Revolution was at its height. It is being offered by Chinese Art in Scotland at a cool £500,000 ( The problems in making such a large white porcelain piece are legion and there would have been many failures {possibly as many as a hundred) in the process of making and firing this successful version. It was formerly housed in the Chinese Embassy in Rome.

Revivalism in modern China means Mao Zedong is still very much revered, and he is already commemorated with statues across the country and a portrait over Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. In 2013, to mark the 120th anniversary of his birth, a solid gold incarnation worth 200 million yuan (£20 million) was inaugurated in his home village of Shaoshan, with busloads of followers flocking to pay tribute.

Happy Chinese New Year! Calling all Roosters

This weekend sees the celebration of Chinese New Year and we take the opportunity to wish all our readers a very happy New Year!

The upcoming year is, of course, the Year of the Rooster.


Long tradition. A Tang Dynasty painted terracotta Rooster.

The Rooster ranks tenth out of the 12 animals in the 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle. 2017 is a year of the Rooster.Every 12 years there is a Rooster year, beginning at Chinese New Year. A year of the Rooster always comes after a Monkey year and before a Dog year.

Years of the Rooster include 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, and 2029.

2017 Is a Fire Rooster Year. In Chinese astrology, each zodiac year is not just associated with an animal sign, but also one of five elements: Gold (Metal), Wood, Water, Fire, or Earth.

Both the zodiac sign and the element shape the astrology of the year. For example, 2017 is a Fire Rooster year. Element-sign combinations recur every 60 years.

The following famous fire Roosters will be 60 this zodiac year: Dawn French, Donny Osmond, Martin Luther King III, Stephen Fry, Hans Zimmer, Dolph Lundgren, and Jools Holland.

Both zodiac sign and element are believed to affect one’s personality and destiny. Below are the five types of Roosters:

Type of Rooster Year of Birth Characteristics
Wood Rooster 1945, 2005 Energetic, overconfident, tender, and unstable
Fire Rooster 1957, 2017 Trustworthy, with a strong sense of timekeeping and responsibility at work
Earth Rooster 1909, 1969 Lovely, generous, trustworthy, and popular with their friends
Gold Rooster 1921, 1981 Determined, brave, perseverant, and hardworking
Water Rooster 1933, 1993 Smart, quick-witted, tenderhearted, and compassionate


Information courtesy China Highlights

A Merry Christmas to all our readers!


Here is a very cheerful fun picture (courtesy to enliven your Christmas morning! Santa’s elves do look a mite chilly but they paint a delightful picture. The photograph was spotted in an article in the magazine of Chinese Branding. The article concluded that ‘sex sells’! We could have told them that for nothing . . .  Enjoy your Christmas!

Christies celebrate 250 years with Shanghai events


Li Huayi (born 1948) Old Pine To be sold by Christies in Shanghai next month    Estimate £130,000-200,000

This October, Christie’s Shanghai are mounting two Autumn Auctions and viewings to celebrate Christie’s 250th anniversary. They feature a curated selection of exceptional artworks, a preview of selected jewellery from Hong Kong Autumn Auctions, international highlights and art forums.

Auctions and viewings will take place at two locations between October 18-22: First Open | Shanghai Chinese and Asian Contemporary Design Christie’s Shanghai Art Space Ampire Building, No. 97 Yuanmingyuan Road, Shanghai and Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art Chinese Contemporary Ink Post-War and Contemporary Art with an auction October 22, 2:30pm and 6pm at the prestigious Peninsula Hotel, Shanghai No. 32 Zhongshan Dong Yi Road, Shanghai.


Mahjong score cards are now collected!

2 girls play mahjong 1924 via Orientally Yours

Two young girls play mahjong almost 100 years ago. These girls are clearly playing at home rather than in a public or commercial situation.

We now live in an age when everything is collected – no niche activity is too obscure. Indeed, the more obscure the activity, the more dedicated is the collector! Mahjong, of course, is not actually an obscure activity in itself. It originated in China and is a game normally played by four players. It a game of skill, strategy and calculation but also involves a considerable degree of chance. It is usually played with a set of 144 tiles based on Chinese characters and symbols (there are regional varaiations): each player, to begin, gets 13 tiles and players draw and discard further tiles. It is sometimes said that the Western card game ‘rummy’ shares a common origin with mahjong.


The game was imported into the United States in the 1920s. These score cards date from that period. They are Mahjong score cards, c. 1923. They come from from the exhibition, “Project Mah Jongg” that was on view from May 4, 2010 through February 27, 2011 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage and that explored the traditions, history, and meaning of the Chinese game in Jewish-American life from the 1920s to today.

Source: Project Mah Jongg


Incense making factory enjoys historic legacy

24 Da-Cheng

The history of Taiwan’s Da-Ching Incense Making Factory can be traced back to more than 150 years ago when the ancestors of the present owners started selling joss papers and sticks as a family business.

The actual incense-making factory was first established by their great-grandfather Mr. Mao-Gui Hsieh in 1945. It is now a fourth-generation operated family business headed by Mr. Po-Chuan Hsieh. It has succeeded in keeping the traditional skill alive in a modern society. Although, like so many other businesses, they are facing the problem of the soaring price of the raw material and decreasing uses of incense, they are resolved to pass the skill down to the future generations.

Thanks to International Wood Culture Society and orientally yours on

The Peabody Essex Museum shows significant Chinese art Part 3

We have written over the past couple of weeks about the splendid and quite unique collection of Chinese art to be found within The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachussetts (USA).  Amongst the collections held there is a quite breathtaking series of gouache paintings vividly illustrating the vigorous ongoing trade between foreign countries and the traders of Canton (Guangdong) during the 1820s.

16 images for joss houses 1825 guangzhou

This image is captioned as ‘images for joss stick sellers’. It appears to depict a shop selling Buddhistic and other devotional figures associated with the burning of joss sticks and incense in a devotional situation at the temple or at a personal shrine. Ca. 1820-5, Canton, gouache on paper. Courtesy The Peabody Essex Museum.

These are unique not just as a collection but also because of their freshness and crispness, unaffected by the passage of almost two hundred years. They would have been executed for the export market and are not unique in themsleves. What is, however, very special is the fact that they have been so well preserved as a collection.

16 metal articles Peabody Essex gouache on paper

Metalware store in Canton, ca. 1820-5. This image painted in gouache seems to include many items made in the archaic style (copies of ancient artifacts from early dynasties). Courtesy Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachussetts.

16 porcelain shop 1820 Guangzhou

Chinese porcelain shop, Canton, ca. 1820-5. Note the porcelain garden seats depicted (bottom left) and which are clearly destined for the export market. There are vases of various forms which would be contemporaneous in origin and certainly not antique items. The vases would probably have been manufactured in nearby Jingdezhen. Gouache on paper, ca. 1820-5. Courtesy The Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachussetts.