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Chinese Art Sets Record Sales in Hong Kong

The red-hot market for Chinese contemporary art continues to soar. At its autumn sale in Hong Kong, the international auction house Sotheby's set a sales record. Other sales at Sotheby's four-day auction, which also featured traditional Chinese art, ceramics, gemstones and watches, also exceeded expectations, as Claudia Blume reports from Hong Kong.

Fierce bidding in the packed auction hall in Hong Kong's convention center led to sales that far exceeded expectations.

Sotheby's auction of contemporary Chinese art raked in more than $42 million - the best result since modern art from China was first auctioned off three years ago. The highest price - $4 million - was paid for a painting by Yue Minjun, known for his cynical pictures of laughing people.

Evelyn Lin, head of Sotheby's Chinese contemporary art department, says the strong demand for modern art from China is mainly driven by Asian buyers.

"In the beginning a lot of people think it's a foreigner market but right now we can prove, and we can say right now actually this market belongs to Asia," she said. "We have very strong buyers from different countries - most likely Singapore, Indonesia, mainland China, even Taiwan. So this has become really, really [an] Asia market."

Lin says new, younger art collectors are particularly keen to buy contemporary art from China. She says investment in art is expanding because the regional economy is doing well and many people are convinced that the market for modern Chinese art has strong growth potential.

Some are skeptical that the boom will continue, however, such as this collector from Singapore.

"Many of them have gone up 10 to 30 fold so I think it's time to be a bit cautious. Anything that goes up 10 or 30 times, you got to be a bit cautious," she said.

While modern art stole the limelight, other sales at Sotheby's four-day auction, which ends on Tuesday, also exceeded expectations. A blue diamond, one of the rarest gems in the world, was sold for almost $8 million. That makes it the most expensive gemstone in the world, per carat, sold at an auction.

A sale of treasures from palaces of China's Qing dynasty, which ended a century ago, generated more than $41 million. An 18th century white jade seal sold for nearly $6 million, the highest price ever paid for white jade at auction.