Kiwi link to Mao's $1M letter

  • 16/12/2015
(Sotheby's)
(Sotheby's)

By Becky Barnes, Press Association

A 1937 letter written by Communist leader Mao Zedong to the future British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, translated by a New Zealand journalist, has sold for more than $1 million.

The letter, which called for the Labour leader's urgent assistance in the war against Japanese Imperialism, generated a lot of interest before being snapped up by a private Chinese collector at a Sotheby's auction in London.

The letter went under the hammer for £500,000 (NZ$1.12 million), well over its estimate of £100,000- £150,000.

It said: "In the name of the Communist Party of China, and on behalf of the whole Chinese people, now engaged in a life and death struggle against the invaders of our country, we should like to send a message of goodwill to the people of Great Britain, and to the British Labour Party, of which you are leader."

Experts at Sotheby's said the letter was written in Yan'an, a remote part of north-western China where the Communists set up their headquarters after Japan invaded the country.

After stating Mao's solidarity and goodwill to the British people, the letter asks for urgent practical assistance in the fight against Japanese Imperialism.

Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby's specialist in books and manuscripts, said: "This attempt to elicit British support against Japan is an extraordinarily early instance of Mao engaging in international diplomacy, and is an exceptionally rare example of Mao's signature. This is only the second document signed by Mao to appear on the international auction market in recent decades."

The letter was originally written in Chinese but this version is believed to have been translated and typed by New Zealand journalist James Munro Bertram before being signed by Mao and the army general Zhu De.

It was sent with a handwritten letter from Mr Bertram which said: "I have the distinction (for what it is worth!) of being the first Englishman to visit the Chinese Communists on their home ground ...You should keep the enclosed letter, if only as a curiosity. It is probably the first time that the signatures of Mao and Chu have ever been seen in England."

Mr Bertram was born in Auckland and was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University before working for The Times and spending years in China prior to the outbreak of World War II.

NZN