Normally when people drink tea just to satisfy their thirst, nobody notices the cup. But when billionaire art collector Liu Yiqian was photographed sipping tea from a $36.6 million cup, he caught the attention of the public and triggered a wave of controversy. The photo quickly spread on the Internet and social media users in China were furious and they expressed their dismay on the Chinese social network Weibo. According to a July 25 News Max report, some even called Yiqian an embarrassment to their country.
The Shanghai collector paid over $36 million for the Ming Dynasty porcelain cup, known as “Chicken Cup,” at a Hong Kong auction back in April of this year. The purchase broke the world auction record for Chinese porcelain. The cup was made during the reign of Ming Dynasty's Chenghua Emperor. The tiny 15th century cup measures just 3.1 inches in diameter and is decorated with a rooster and hen tending to their chicks.
According to Sotheby's, one of the world's largest brokers of fine and decorative art, only 17 such cups exist, with four owned by private collectors and the rest in museums.
"There's no more legendary object in the history of Chinese porcelain," said Nicholas Chow, Sotheby's deputy chairman for Asia. "This is really the holy grail when it comes to Chinese art."
While many people agree that since Mr. Liu is the owner of the cup, he therefore has the right to use it at will. However, others do not think so. Critics said that Mr. Liu wasted millions on the cup which could've have been used to help those less fortunate.
The controversy highlights a dissatisfaction with the actions of the rich, as well as sparking concerns about inequality in income in China.
For his part, Mr. Liu defended his ceremonial sip, saying it wasn't planned: “Emperor Qianlong has used it, now I’ve used it,” Liu told media outlets. He added that the cup “isn’t a commercial product appropriate for the masses.”
"It happened when I was paying," he continued. "A Sotheby’s staffer poured me some tea. I saw the [chicken cup] and excitedly poured some of that tea into the cup and drank a little. Such a simple thing — what’s so crazy about that?"
Although many social media users were outraged at Yiqian's act, some came to his defense with statements such as the following..."The money that people have strived to earn all their lives, they’re just spending in search for some happiness. What’s it got to do with you?" one Weibo user wrote.