Cheong Man Kei, born in 1942 in Guangzhou, native of Panyu, Guangdong, is a senior ancient jade connoisseur and collector. He has been engaging in collecting and studying the jewelry and cultural relics for more than 40 years. He published six books including “The Jewelry World” and was awarded the Honorary Doctorate of Gemology by the University of Belgium in 1981 and became the host of “Asian Gemological Studies Center”
Nurtured and Influenced by a Family of Jewelry and Gold Industry
Dr. Cheong Man Kei is a senior ancient jade connoisseur and collector and comes from a family background in the jewelry and gold industry. His uncle Cheong Wei Gat had been engaging in the jewelry and gold business in the period of the Republic of China in Guangzhou, Hong Kong and other cities. Cheong Man Kei grew up in the nurture of the jewelry and gold ornaments industry. In addition to going to school, he spent most of his time on learning the knowledge of precious metals and jewelry from his uncle during his childhood and adolescence. Being imperceptibly influenced by what he constantly saw and heard in which he had been developing a keen interest to the extent that he even started to appreciate jewelry and gold ornaments.
Being quite reputable in the jewelry and gold industry and having deep friendship with a lot of upper class collectors and jewelry industry leaders, his uncle Cheong Wei Gat used to bring along Cheong Man Kei while attending various business occasions or private parties, which not only broadened his vision but also enabled him to accumulate industry contacts. This unique experience laid a solid foundation on later stage for his joining the industry, doing research, appraising and writing books about the jewelry.
Accumulating Experience through Practice and Aiming to Write Books
Cheong Man Kei was determined to create a world of his own beyond his family business since childhood. Keeping that in mind, he was teaching himself the knowledge of jewelry during his study in Beijing. Being well accomplished upon graduation from college in 1964, Cheong Man Kei took a job in a jewelry shop located on Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro and had been accumulating experiences since then.
At that time the jewelry shops located on Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro mainly sold their jewelries to tourists, especially to Japanese tourists. Many tourists knew little about jewelry and they asked the salesperson all sorts of questions during the purchasing. Some of the questions were about the basic knowledge of jewelry but others are highly specialized ones which the untrained salespersons were unable to answer and they had no choice but to change the topic and let it go.
To this end, Cheong Man Kei decided to delve into the jewelry and gold area. He managed to spare the time to conduct a systematic and in-depth study on the theories of western gemology in an effort to further enhance his professional quality. But a theoretical system in the field of jewelry and gold had not been formed in mainland China at that time which mainly relied on introducing the western research results. Cheong Man Kei thus aimed to write some professional books that were closely related to the actual situation and the market demand of the jewelry and gold industry in the region for local practitioners and even the entire Greater China region and he had been working hard on it since then.
Rise to Fame by Writing Six Books during Sixteen Years Working in Macao
Cheong Man Kei’s first book “The World Jewelry” was launched in 1969. The book attracted positive responses in the industry as soon as it was available for sale, which made Cheong Man Kei greatly appreciated among many industry practitioners. While enjoying the sense of accomplishment, he could feel the weight of responsibility on his shoulders and a sense of strong mission coming with it, which drove him to persistently study hard in an effort to perfect this theory system.
Until the early 1980s, Cheong Man Kei had been publishing six books including “The World Jewelry”, “The Role of Gold in the World Economy”, “The History of Ancient Chinese Jades”, “The Gems”, “Diamond Identification Guide” and “The Study of Gems”, all of which have become in history the first relatively complete series of scientific books in Asia. He also was awarded the Honorary Doctorate of Gemology by the University of Belgium in 1981 and became the host of “Asian Gemological Studies Center”
Persisting in Studying and Writing Books during Special Period Having Far-reaching Significance
Cheong Man Kei had been working in Macao for sixteen years during which mainland China was going through the Cultural Revolution decade. Due to the resulting social turbulence, many jewelry shops had to close down and a large number of senior workers were accused of being capitalist roaders and were subject to mass criticism. At that time, the few new practitioners joining the industry lacked experience, resulting in serious talent gaps in the industry. The new entrants needed to collect a great amount of high quality jewelry and gold ornaments from the folk society in order to continue their business. However, since they were not professionally competent, they needed to delve into professional books for self-enhancement in an effort to improve their business experience and gemstone appraisal skills. The publication of Cheong Man Kei’s first professional book provided useful learning materials for local and mainland industry practitioners. The book sold well in both local and mainland China and was well received by the public.
However, Cheong Man Kei’s books were regarded as “the product of Bourgeois” in mainland China, and many Chinese practitioners could only purchase them under the counter and studied them secretly at home. Those books received the attention from the social circles and were properly evaluated till the end of the Cultural Revolution and the beginning of a new era of reform and opening up. As a result, even the national leaders were aware of the name of “Cheong Man Kei”.
The Cultural Revolution decade was Cheong Man Kei’s most productive period. During such a special period, he still persisted in studying and writing books, making contributions of far-reaching significance to the industry practitioners and the development of the industry and even the academic research in Asia.
A New Approach to Studying Ancient Jade Culture and being Well-grounded
Cheong Man Kei had been engaged in the jewelry industry till the last years of 1970s when he came into contact with ancient jades by chance and was attracted by their mild plain textures as well as their mellow cultural origins. In addition, numerous people were studying jewelry and gold global wide, especially in Europe and North America, however, ancient jade research was relatively unpopular and in-depth studies were rare. In view of this, Cheong Man Kei mainly focused on the study of ancient jades and their culture systematically in his mid-late research and focused less on other fields. Cheong Man Kei opened an antique jewelry shop in Hong Kong since the mid 1980s and he had been engaging in doing research, identifying and collecting jewelry and writing books since then.
During the period while he had been doing business and research in Hong Kong and later settled in Macao, Cheong Man Kei’s study on ancient jades had been getting mature and he has finished writing his seventh book on ancient jades, which is still in the process of being revised and polished in order to achieve perfection. Cheong Man Kei put much emphasis on the authoritativeness and academic value of his books, just like the unique qualities of jades reflecting the profound knowledge of the cultural essence.
Cheong Man Kei believes that the study of ancient jades is different from that of jewelry and gold ornaments in that the latter can be identified using scientific methods which may not work with the former. It takes much longer time to study and identify ancient jades in an attempt to systematize all the information collected such as their ages, arts, textures, and historical stories, based on which a comprehensive and objective identification and evaluation can be made from the perspective of their historical values and collection values.
Engaging in Collection and Research for More Than 40 Years and Being Well Received
With a family background of the jewelry and gold industry and the business connections accumulated over the years working in the industry, he got to know many powerful merchants and royal descendants, which facilitated his collection and research and provided opportunities for him to see many rare treasures from which he benefited a lot. From many years of experience in collecting and doing research on jewelry and ancient jades, Cheong Man Kei believed that it is difficult to get the truth when doing research without having access to the physical treasures, just like an armchair strategist. Only studying the physical treasures complimenting with the relevant theories can make a difference. Therefore, the treasures and ancient jades collected by Cheong Man Kei over the years, together with many professional books he wrote help establish his authority and reputation in the industry and build an important bridge for him and his counterparts to compare notes. He also believed that collecting and doing research is an integral part of his life-spindle and is also a God-given mission.
Cheong Man Kei has been engaging in the research, identification and collection of the historical artifacts and works of art for more than forty years since 1960s. At the same time, he attended seminars and lectures among mainland China, Taiwan and overseas academics and collectors. His academic achievements and professional attainments received recognition from all sides.