Sotheby’s London Important Manuscripts sale was led by a calligraphic autograph letter by Mao Zedong written towards the end of the Chinese Civil War. The letter realised £519,000 (US$660,473), above its pre-sale estimate of £300,000 - 400,000.
This is the first time that a handwritten and autographed letter by Mao is appearing on the international market. This letter was written to Yang Yi, a trusted party member and journalist who would become a key member of the future People's Republic of China (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 PRC.
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.
Yang Yi, a trusted party member and journalist who would become a key member of the future People's Republic of China (PRC)
The bidding started at £200,000 and steadily rose to £280,000 after 4 bids from online and telephone bidders. The bidding gradually became more intense when two telephone bidders- Thiago and Mandy competed against each other. Soon, the price of the letter rose to £400,000 and the auctioneer put the hammer down for Mandy. The final price realised is £520,000.
Mao's handwritten documents have seen considerable interest in recent auctions. For example, handwritten notes by Mao in 1975 was sold for £704,750 at auction in 2017, 10 times its estimated price at £60,000 - 80,000. They were written the year before Mao died when his health deteriorated.
Mao Zedong. Calligraphic autograph letter signed, to the journalist Yang Yi, 17 August [c.1948]
Lot no.: 31
Estimate: £300,000 - 400,000
Hammer price: £400,000
Price realised: £519,000 (US$660,473)
Auction house: Sotheby's London
Sale: Important Manuscripts, Continental Books and Music
Lots offered: 231