Rare copy of Mao’s Little Red Book expected to fetch more than £30,000 | Mao Zedong

Rare copy of Mao’s Little Red Book expected to fetch more than £30,000 | Mao Zedong

The Little Red Book, a talisman of 20th-century Maoism, may have fallen out of favour in China after the Cultural Revolution, but its popularity with collectors shows no sign of abating.

The book, officially entitled Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, was given its popular name due to the bright red cover of mass-produced editions. A rare prototype version is about to resurface in a sale by a west London auction house of hundreds of artefacts from the Cultural Revolution, where it is expected to fetch more than £30,000.

The early edition of collected Mao quotations was produced by a regional political department in 1963, the year before the People’s Liberation Army started officially producing it as a means of spreading Mao’s ideology to the masses.

Chinese Red Guards read the Little Red Book during a rally in Beijing in 1967. Photograph: Jean Vincent/AFP/Getty Images

The official version – a pocket-sized book of more than 200 Mao quotations – helped to shape Mao’s cult of personality before and during the Cultural Revolution and the trajectory of Chinese history in the 20th century.

The items will be sold by Chiswick Auctions on Thursday, on behalf of Justin Schiller, an American bookseller who owns what the auction house describes as “one of the world’s largest and best private collections of Cultural Revolution artefacts”.

Despite the fact that an estimated billion or more copies of the Little Red Book have been printed, rare early editions often fetch high prices. Last year, a first edition sold for more than $10,000 in the US.

The books are a reminder that “ideology matters” and that “politics is real”, said Rana Mitter, a historian of modern China at Harvard University. Mitter said that such artefacts “remind people that the Cultural Revolution was a process. It didn’t come out of nowhere.”

Famous quotations featured in the book include “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” and “a revolution is not a dinner party”.

Chinese soldiers march carrying the Little Red Book in 1967. Photograph: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

The Cultural Revolution was launched by Mao in 1966 to reassert control over the Chinese Communist party (CCP). The decade of social and political chaos was characterised by mass violence, millions of deaths and brutal political purges.

Schiller started collecting CCP memorabilia on a visit to China in 1998, where he picked up artefacts from flea markets for as little as 60 cents. He said he paid more than $15,000 for rarer items, such as the prototype editions.

A Chinese wax mango from the early years of the Cultural Revolution. Photograph: Chiswick Auctions

Many items in his collection – which take up 15 rooms of his house in upstate New York – were obtained when a specialist dealer in Beijing sold him her whole shop for $40,000 on the advice of a fortune teller in the early 2000s, Schiller said. It took three shipping containers – sent from different ports over several weeks to avoid scrutiny from the Chinese authorities – to transport them back to the US.

“Now the Chinese government would never allow that,” Schiller said. “They understand too well their own history.”

The Cultural Revolution is a sensitive topic in China. The official party line is that it was a catastrophe initiated by a leader “under a misapprehension”, but Mao is still venerated. In December, Xi Jinping, China’s leader, praised Mao’s “unremitting struggle for the prosperity of the country, the rejuvenation of the nation, and the happiness of the people”.

Schiller said some larger auction houses were wary of selling such collections for fear of offending the Chinese government. In 2009, Christie’s was criticised by Beijing for auctioning two Chinese sculptures, originally looted from a Chinese palace during the opium wars, on behalf of the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

Chiswick Auctions has limited its marketing in China for this auction but said that some buyers based there had registered interest. The collection has not been independently authenticated.

Schiller said people used to accuse him of representing a murderer when he sold Mao-related memorabilia at book fairs. But he said: “I don’t think of Mao as an evil person. Everybody kills each other in a state of war”.

The sale also includes propaganda posters, statues, and other examples of CCP memorabilia, such as a wax mango shrine.

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