Mao Zedong’s rare handwritten notes to go under the hammer for an estimated HK$800,000

Updated on July 7 2017

Manifesto writer, aspiring poet, philosophical dreamer, and — who could forget? — political tyrant, Mao Zedong undoubtedly left his mark on the world through his writing, and now you have the opportunity to own a piece of it — in the form of a set of handwritten notes musing on classical Chinese works.

These aren’t any ordinary notes, though. Whether you regard them as historical relics or something more like abstract scribbles, these notes bring the legendary man to life, collectively revealing the Chinese leader’s sensitive and philosophical side. Created during Mao’s intimate conversations with Hunanese scholar Di Lu, the notes pertain to his interest in classical Chinese literature.

Dating back to 1975 (Mao’s final year of life), the set of notes coming to auction are nine pages long and contain jotted-down titles or first lines of poems by Li Bai — reportedly Mao’s favourite poet — and Du Fu, amongst other quotations praising poets or recalling classical poems. They were the by-products of meetings between Chairman Mao and Di, a classical Chinese scholar who came from Mao’s hometown. Due to Mao’s ailing health — with failing sight and increasing inability to articulate words, Di had asked him to write his thoughts into a notepad to facilitate their conversation. (The notes are from the collection of Di’s family.)

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Mao Zedong - Classical Chinese Literature Notes
Lot 28, Mao Zedong’s Classical Chinese Literature Notes

Mao’s notes are accompanied by Professor Di’s explanatory notes of their conversations, including a quote of the Chairman saying “…We need to promote modern Chinese [writing]…”. An additional folio includes notes inscribed by Madame Mao — Mao’s fourth and final wife, Jiang Qing — written in pencil in Chinese, “for Chairman to read.”

The set of notes will be going under the hammer on 11 July at the Sotheby’s London sale for English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations. Considered one of the highlights of the collection of intellectual gems, the auction also sees 398 other fascinating lots including rare books, manuscripts, and significant historical artifacts, with curious rarities such as a book of ship’s journals relating to the African slave trade, a book of eerie Spirit Photographs, signed letters and autographs from Gandhi and Jane Austen, and even Queen Victoria’s bloomers.

Mao’s notes are estimated to fetch between HK$606,263 and $808,350 at auction, a whopping price tag considering they are essentially scribbles from a very ill man near the end of his life. But seeing that they’re a time capsule of the private life of one of the 20th century’s most significant men, would you pay the price? In a post-cloud world where we barely even have handwritten notes anymore, will anyone read your incoherent ramblings about, say, Game of Thrones in 50 years’ time? Unfortunately, we predict otherwise, but perhaps this will inspire you to keep all your random scrawls for posterity’s sake.

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