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Chinese Tycoon's Ancient Tea Cup Sip Sparks Social Media Storm

Chinese billionaire Liu Yiquan set off a social media storm after drinking tea from a $36 million, Ming Dynasty-era cup.
Shanghai collector Liu Yiqian won the bidding for this Ming Dynasty cup in April for $36.1 million, a world record for Chinese porcelain. His decision to sip tea from it sparked anger and outrage this week.Vincent Yu / AP

Call it a social media tempest in a teacup.

Chinese businessman Liu Yiqian horrified many of his fellow citizens this week after a photo emerged showing the real estate mogul drinking tea out of a tiny Ming Dynasty-era cup that many art collectors consider the “holy grail” of Chinese porcelains.

Liu shattered records this spring when he paid $36 million for the 500-year-old “chicken cup,” known for the chickens painted on the surface. Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei own a private art museum in Shanghai.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Liu took the controversial drink last week, when he traveled to Hong Kong to finalize his purchase. “It happened when I was paying,” Liu told the paper. “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?”

Many users of the Chinese social network Weibo were eager to let Liu know just how wrong he was. “You think you can drink it and become immortal? Or that it will extend your life?” wrote one. “In fact, isn’t it just a way to satisfy your vanity?”

“No people who are civilized would treat a cultural treasure like this,” another wrote.

According to the journal, Liu says he had a simple reason for using his newly acquired work of art: “I just wanted to see how it felt."