First English edition of 'The Little Red Book' signed by Chairman Mao sells for US$250,000 at auction

"A revolution is not a dinner party," said Chairman Mao of China. In the 20th century, anyone living in China would have known this famous quote from The Little Red Book – because owning it and studying it had become a way of surviving during the Cultural Revolution.

A talisman of the 20th century and a propaganda tool, the book, formally titled Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, is essentially a book of statements from speeches and writings by the supreme leader of the Chinese Communist Party. Published from 1964 to about 1976, it was widely distributed and translated into more than 30 languages, becoming the world’s second most-published book, only after the Bible.

Now in the 21st century, its popularity with collectors seems to show no sign of abating: Earlier last month, a first English edition of the red pocket-sized book, signed by Chairman Mao himself, sold for US$250,000 at Boston-based auction house RR Auctions.

As evidenced by a photo proof, it was gifted on 25 October 1966 to the wife of Foreign Minister of Pakistan Sharifuddin Pirzada (1923–2017), the first statesman invited to visit the Chinese government after the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. 

Chairman Mao autographed for the wife of Pakistan's Foreign Minister

Lot 4023 | Mao Zedong Historically Important Signed Book: Quotations from Chairman Mao (The Little Red Book) - Autographed for the Wife of Pakistan's Foreign Minister, with Photo Proof
Published in 1966 by Peking: Foreign Languages Press
Pages: 312
Estimate: In excess of US$200,000
Sold: US$250,000

Auction House: RR Auction

Sale: Remarkable Rarities
Bidding Close Date: 22 February 2024

An icon of Red China, Mao's Little Red Book was first printed in Chinese in 1964 and the first English version was published two years later by the Communist Party's Foreign Language Press. During the first five years of China's Cultural Revolution, it was printed over one billion times and became a must-have for the Chinese.

Under the "thought reform" initiated by the charismatic Chairman Mao, people loved the Chairman more than anything else, with a household saying goes, "Father and mother are dear, but dearer still is Chairman Mao." And The Little Red Book certainly played a huge part in the success of building Mao's personality cult. 

Inside the book are thirty-three chapters of Mao's words, organized by topic such as the Communist Party, class and class struggle, socialism and communism, war and peace, imperialism, the People's Army, politics, patriotism, and culture – in short, every bit of Mao's ideology. To the people, he is a hero who speaks to their despair as struggling nobodies. 

Some famous quotations from the book include "We should support whatever the enemy opposes and oppose whatever the enemy supports", "All reactionaries are paper tigers. In appearance, the reactionaries are terrifying, but in reality, they are not so powerful," and "Every Communist must grasp the truth: Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."

The present lot is a signed first English edition of Quotations from Chairman Mao, or The Little Red Book

Chairman Mao signed next to his portrait

The foreign minister's name is inscribed on the first free end page in blue ballpoint, "Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, Peking, 25th October 1966."

Rarely found in autographed examples, the present lot is a first-edition English version bound in the classic red vinyl covers with embossed title and star. The foreign minister's name is inscribed on the first free end page in blue ballpoint, "Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, Peking, 25th October 1966." 

On that day, Pirzada and his wife arrived in now-Beijing for a friendly diplomatic visit. China had only recently begun laying the groundwork for a relationship with Pakistan before this visit, but they did solidify their allyship during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war.

With the book being the single most visible icon in mainland China at the time, it came naturally that it suited as the best souvenir and diplomatic gift from China, even better with the Chairman's signature; the moment that Mao signed the book was captured on film.

The foreign minister's visit opened up many doors, far and wide. As Pakistan cultivated its relations with China, a new road was paved for the United States and China to re-establish their ties. As such, this very book, besides bearing witness to 20th-century China, is a testimony to a tangible link to a critical period in global diplomacy, signifying a new step in China’s geopolitical relations.