- Mao Zedong
- Autograph manuscript notes on classical Chinese literature,
- Ink on paper
[with:] Prof. Di Lu, autograph manuscript notes of her meetings with Mao, recording their discussions of classical poetry, Tang Dynasty literature (with his particular love of Li Bai), Odes of the Han dynasty, linguistics, and his contempt for the traditional curriculum and the elite study of classical culture ("...We need to promote modern Chinese [writing]..."), in Chinese, 7 pages, folio (265 x 195mm), text on rectos only, 26 July 1975;
[also with:] Poems by Sa Du Ci. [n.p., n.d.], small folio, blue wrappers, INSCRIBED BY MAO'S WIFE JIANG QING in pencil in Chinese ("for Chairman to read"), and a small bundle of typescripts and press cuttings relating to Di Lu and Mao
Mao's love of literature was a constant throughout his life. Henry Kissinger has recalled that in Mao's residence, the Chrysanthemum Fragrance Study, "manuscripts lined bookshelves along every wall; books covered the table and the floor; it looked more the retreat of a scholar than the audience room of the all-powerful leader of the world’s most populous nation" (quoted in Short, Mao: the Man who made China (2017), p.609). By 1975, however, when these notes were written, Mao was an old and sick man. Politically, the dominant issue for Mao himself and those around him was the succession. His sight was failing so his ability to read was reduced, and he had increasing difficulty articulating words. He was heavily dependent on his confidential secretary, Zhang Yufeng, to read to him and interpret his speech to others. Zhang's competence did not reach to classical literature so Mao began to find himself cut off from the cultural traditions that held such deep meaning to him. The Party Central Committee was tasked with finding someone who could read classical works to Mao, and they requested Beijing University to send them a list of teachers at the Department of Chinese Literature.
As a result of this request, Di Lu (1931-2015), a classical Chinese scholar from Mao's native Hunan, was brought to see Mao. When they first met on 26 May 1975 Mao recited to her a poem by the Tang poet Liu Yuxi then explained that he wanted someone to read him classical works. They talked of Liu Yuxi but Di had difficulty understanding what Mao was saying. On later visits she asked Mao to write his thoughts into a notepad to ease communication, and she also made her own notes of the conversation. These unique manuscript notes are the fruits of these meetings.
The notes provide numerous valuable insights into Mao's thinking on literature. Not surprisingly, his attention is mostly focused on the intersection of poetry and politics. He quotes approvingly from the Tang poet Bai Juyi on the moral necessity of the poet to describe contemporary society, and praises Du Fu as the poet saint of his generation for his concern over the plight of common people (although he has nothing but contempt for his tendency to, in Mao's words, cry like a baby at every opportunity). He dismisses the glib claim made in a Han dynasty poem ('Ling Du Fu') that panegyrics are not written for weak rulers, citing works such as the Han 'Nineteen Old Poems', 'The Seven Scholars of Jian’an', and the 'Songs of the South' as examples of poems written in praise of weak Emperors. His favourite poet of the Tang dynasty was Li Bai, and he drew Di's attention to lines from 'Difficulty of the Shu Road' which he sees as having particular political resonance. AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPTS BY MAO ARE OF THE UTMOST RARITY ON THE INTERNATIONAL MARKET.