Lot 28
  • 28

Mao Zedong

60,000 - 80,000 GBP
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  • Mao Zedong
  • Autograph manuscript notes on classical Chinese literature,
  • Ink on paper
including the titles or first lines of poems by Li Bai ('Difficulty of the Shu Road') and Du Fu (‘Ascend’ and ‘Tallest Buildings Inside the City of Baidi’), a quotation in praise of Du Fu by the contemporary writer Guo Moruo, quotations from another Tang poet, Bai Juyi, and also from the Han dynasty poem 'Ling Du Fu', and the title of a work ('Zi Yang Gang Mu') by the scholar Zhu Xi, which Mao associates with Daoism, 9 pages, text on rectos only, eight in pencil and one in red crayon, three of the manuscripts with explanatory notes by Professor Di Lu subscribed in pencil, in Chinese, various sizes (four leaves 265 x 190mm, four leaves 210 x 150mm, and one leaf 155 x 95mm), 1975, staining to two leaves

[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

Catalogue Note

REMARKABLE NOTES REVEALING MAO'S DEEP CONTINUING INTEREST IN CLASSICAL CHINESE LITERATURE. Mao's love of poetry was kindled during his adolescence at Dongshan Upper Primary school in his native Hunan in the years before the Xinhai Revolution. A voracious reader, Mao's first employment on arrival in Beijing in 1918 was as an assistant at Peking University Library, where the librarian was the early Chinese Communist Li Dazhao. Compatriots recalled that in the desperate period of 1927-28 when Mao was with the Red Army in Jinggangshan, rare moments of calm would be spent discussing poetry with comrades such as Zhu De and Chen Yi. Mao even had especially large pockets made for his military jacket so that he could always have a book with him. Mao was himself a capable poet, although the authorship of some of the works attributed to him in his lifetime has been disputed. As early as 1917 he was writing poetry when he spent a month of the summer on a walking tour of Hunan, begging food and lodging. He continued to write through the long years of war: his most famous poem, 'Snow', is said to have been written on his first aeroplane flight, travelling to meet Chiang Kai-shek after the Japanese surrender in 1945. He continued to write even after the foundation of the PRC. Throughout his life Mao preferred classical forms, even when this went against socialist realist orthodoxy. Thus the publication of a selection of his poems in the magazine Shikan [Poetry] in 1957 has been interpreted as a signal of the nascent Hundred Flowers Campaign. 

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.