An entity of identity

Updated: 2013-12-12 10:28

By Wang Kaihao (China Daily)

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An entity of identity

Snuff bottles, collected by Xu Xianjun, were once used by Manchu nobles.

Wealthier collectors have taken their hobby to the next level. Xu Xianjun, 46, has an antique collection he claims is worth an estimated 300 million yuan ($49.3 million), of which 70 percent of the items are related to his ethnic group. The Manchu from Hohhot made his wealth through his logistics conglomerate and is, perhaps, the biggest private collector of Manchu items in Inner Mongolia.

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"I like to divide these items into categories, like costumes and musical instruments," he says.

Among Xu's favorite collections are 800 luxurious snuff bottles, which he says reflect the lives of Manchu nobles and merchants as well as the old trade route in Inner Mongolia.

"Some snuff bottles are much bigger than the regular size, because the merchants traveling northwards to Russia or even further places would not return home for a number of years. They had to bring enough tobacco," he says.

"I've known from the very beginning that I am unable to make money through these collections because few buyers in China show interest in ethnic items. All those who are willing to throw money into this field must have strong personal links." Hohhot will soon open an ethnic culture museum, and Xu plans to donate one-third of his collection.

"It will be too narrow-minded if I keep them at home. The exhibition will be even more meaningful for a city where there are Mongolians and Manchus, who share shamanistic beliefs as well as nomadic traditions, and have interwoven connections in history."

Xu is among the initiators of the Hohhot Manchu Culture Promotion Association, which was established in May to better protect the ethnic group's traditional cultural items. It is one of 20-odd similar organizations nationwide. The association includes 92 Manchu people, many of whom are entrepreneurs in the cultural industry.