Chinese Language

Proverbs | 15

Shui zhang chuan gao : When the tide rises, boats float higher

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Zhong wen

When the tide rises, boats float higher

A single French Impressionist painting by Manet, to everyone's surprise, fetched £17,700,000 at a Christie's auction recently, breaking all records.

Sotheby's I hear, were jumping for joy the next morning despite the fact that Christie's were their deadliest competitor. How come? It's elementary, my dear Watson. Sotheby's believe in the Chinese maxim 'When the tide rises, boats float higher'. The Manet sold at Christie's served to tell people that the tide was rising for oil paintings in general and the Impressionist School in particular. It so happened that Sotheby's were to have a sale of paintings (mainly Impressionist) the next evening. No wonder there was a smacking of lips in New Bond Street. Now that the two newsworthy auction sales are over and done with, I don't have to tell you that Sotheby's sale of 104 paintings realised a total of £40,000,000, nearly double the estimate. That is a lot of water under the bridge, I must say.

On hearing that a shipload of Chinese porcelains known as the Nanking Cargo had been auctioned in Amsterdam last summer for far higher prices than expected, a Chinese friend of mine was quick off the mark, congratulating me with the phrase 'shui zhang chuan gao', simply because I happened to have a handful of similar but half-cracked 'Nanjing' porcelain objects languishing in my bicycle shed, which I had picked up for a song when 'the tide' was at its lowest ebb. He hadn't realised, that when the water recedes, the boats go with it too!

© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2006 : China Now 126, Page 31, September 1988

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