Isla Brown4 December 2023 Illustration by Sam Ward Liu Yiqian, the Chinese billionaire, swiped his American Express Centurion card 24 times. Surrounded by the Chinese art world’s most elite collectors, Liu charged $36 million on his credit card to purchase “the holy grail” of Chinese art: a tea cup from the Ming dynasty. The cup, which is more than 500 years old, is only 8 centimeters in diameter and adorned with chickens pecking at their feed. The Meiyintang ‘Chicken Cup’. Credit: Sotheby’s It was the summer of 2014, and Liu, a former taxi driver on the streets of Shanghai, knew he was making history. In front of invited media at Sotheby’s auction house in Hong Kong, the self-taught stock trader and founder of investment firm Sunline Group, poured tea into the cup and, with cameras flashing, casually drank from it. The sheer swagger of the moment underscored a larger trend in the art world: China had arrived on the scene. In 2006 China was home to only 5 percent of the global art market. By 2011, Subscribe or login to read the rest. Subscribers get full access to: Exclusive longform investigative journalism, Q&As, news and analysis, and data on Chinese business elites and corporations. We publish China scoops you won’t find anywhere else. A weekly curated reading list on China from David Barboza, Pulitzer Prize-winning former Shanghai correspondent for The New York Times. A daily roundup of China finance, business and economics headlines. We offer discounts for groups, institutions and students. Go to our Subscriptions page for details.