Almost half of all £1 million-plus bids placed in China's auction houses remained unpaid six months after they were lodged, it has emerged.
The findings by the Chinese Association for Auctioneers give a rare official glimpse beneath the surface of what one Western art-dealer has described as the "shark infested waters" of China's art world.
International auction houses have enjoyed a series of record-breaking sales since 2009 as 'hot' Chinese money flooded the market in search of investment opportunities following a massive surge in cheap credit following the 2008 financial crisis.
But the problems of the weak regulation in the Chinese art market could be seen last year when a Chinese bidder 'paid' a record-breaking £53m for a Qing Dynasty vase found in the house of a Middlesex widow.
The 'sale' initially attracted celebratory headlines but these were quickly tempered by reports that both the owner and the auctioneer had been forced to travel to China in pursuit of payment. The parties will still not confirm if the payment has been received.
The survey of last year's autumn sales from 250 Chinese auction houses found that two fifths of sales above 10m yuan (approximately £1m) had not been fully paid by April this year, according to Ou Shuying, the Association's deputy general-secretary.
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