Mao Zedong’s Calligraphic Autograph Letter Could Fetch £300,000

A calligraphic autograph letter by Mao Zedong written towards the end of the Chinese Civil War, addressed to the journalist Yang Yi will be offered at Sotheby’s London sale Important Manuscripts, which will start on 11 June 2019. It is first time that an autograph letter by Mao to appear on an international auction.

Mao Zedong, also known as Chairman Mao, was popularly known as the founding father of the People's Republic of China (PRC). He ruled as the Chairman of the Communist Party of China from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976. He is considered to be one of the most influential, important and controversial figures of the 20th century. On top of his role as a political leader, Mao was also a master calligrapher. We can now get a glimpse of this side of him from the calligraphic letter offered at the present sale.

This letter was written to Yang Yi, a trusted party member and journalist who would become a key member of the future PRC, the Xinhua News Agency and a contemporary of Mao’s own son Mao Anying. It was either written in August 1948, when Mao was conducting the war in Manchuria and northern China from his base in Shanxi Province, or in August of the following year, in which case it was sent from the Fragrant Hills just outside Beijing as he waited for the ideal moment to enter the city and cement his position as leader of the People’s Republic of China.

In the letter, Mao acknowledged receipt of Yang Yi's letter of the 15th August, together with one from his mother, telling him that he is available every afternoon, the only problem being that his mother is unwell and so has to stay overnight.

The letter itself, is written on plain paper and uses a recycled map of Shanxi province as an envelope. Mao’s expert characters flow left to right, utilising a newly-fashionable method, rather than the traditional top to bottom to give emphasis to new techniques, and with a lighter, freer brush stroke juxtaposing small and large characters. During his lifetime, Mao’s bold calligraphy was considered a new form, coined Maoti or ‘Mao-style’ and since his death has gained considerable popularity throughout calligraphy circles in China.

An official portrait of mao Zedong writing calligraphy

The reason this document is so important stems from the knowledge that it was written only months before he took power, after which the guerrilla leader Mao Zedong became Chairman Mao—unchallenged, obscure, and all-powerful.

According to the auction house, there is no record of any autograph letter signed by Mao previously sold on the international market. The only auction records for Mao manuscript material, aside from signatures in albums, are late manuscript notes, a typed letter signed to the British socialist leader Clement Attlee, and a small group of documents and letters relating to negotiations with Chang Hsueh-liang. Unlike any of those items, this autograph letter written to a trusted friend exhibits Mao's remarkable skill at calligraphy. It is valued at £300,000 - 400,000.

In 2017, handwritten notes by Mao in 1975 was sold at auction for £704,750, 10 times its estimated price at £60,000-80,000. They were written the year before Mao died, as his health deteriorated.

Mao Zedong. Calligraphic autograph letter signed, to the journalist Yang Yi, 17 August [c. 1947-1949]

Lot no.: 31
Estimate: £300,000 - 400,000

Auction details
Auction house: Sotheby’s London
Sale: Important Manuscripts, Continental Books and Music
Session 1: 11 Jun 2019 | 10:30 am| Lots 1-97
Session 2: 11 Jun 2019 | 02:00 pm| Lots 98-232