'Red articles' continue to shine in modern era

Editor:Sharon Lee
Updated:2015-10-08 09:52:24
By Cang Wei in Nanjing and Feng Zhiwei in Changsha(China Daily USA)

  Buyers keep collections in hand either for investment or remembrance

  Xue Kaizhong was not surprised when the gold and silver coins he bought on Aug 27 for 6,600 yuan ($1,033) were worth 9,000 yuan in mid-September.

  The 64-year-old, who lives in Zhongshan, Guangdong province, stood in line for two hours to buy the coins, which were specially issued to commemorate the 70th anniversary of victory in the Chinese People's War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) and the end of World War II.

'Red articles' continue to shine in modern era

Badges of Chairman Mao, as symbols of an era, are among the most sought-after collections. Sha Lang / For China Daily

  "The prices of the commemorative coins will soar," said Xue. "They will continue to rise as fewer coins appear in the market. Many buyers won't sell them, either because they're waiting for a better market or they just want to keep them for remembrance."

  Xue added that some of his friends who are commemorative stamp fans got up at 3 am to get a place in line to buy a set of stamps issued for the anniversary.

  The post office in Zhongshan, which usually sells 300 sets of stamps when commemorative collections are issued, applied for 890 sets from the provincial post office to meet demand from customers. The stamps sold out in two hours.

  "Most commemorative stamp fans don't seek an increase in value," said Tang Boju, an enthusiast from Zhongshan's Xiaolan township. "I always tell others that all my collections will be donated when I die. None of them will be sold at a profit."

  Tang, who is now in his 60s, has collected nearly 2,000 sets of stamps over more than 20 years, including some rare ones.

  He said the prices of "red articles" - items related to the establishment of the People's Republic of China and the Communist pioneers - are related to supply and demand.

  "Even if you buy some expensive red articles, their prices won't increase if few people are interested," Tang said. According to Ji Yucheng, director of the red collection committee of the China Association of Collectors, about 1 million people in China now collect red articles.

  "The articles, such as stamps, badges and busts, embody a history that many Chinese people cherish," said Ji. "Many people think that only those in the older generation are red article fans, but more young people are interested now.

  "The red collections had been neglected for years, but many young entrepreneurs have joined us, which is one of the reasons that the prices of the collections have increased rapidly."

  He added that China now has more than 100 private red collection museums and more than 30 large public museums. Most of the museums offer free admission.

  Mao memorabilia

  Zhang Deben, 63, established the Mao Zedong Exhibition Hall at No 68 Changming Road in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi province, to honor the memory of the chairman and some other pioneers in founding the New China.

  Grateful that his tuition fees were waived by the government so he could attend primary and secondary school, Zhang has been collecting Mao memorabilia since he was a teenager.

  After making a fortune in construction and renting out storehouses, he came up with the idea of opening a Mao museum to remind people of the Communist pioneers.

  After spending more than 10 million yuan to collect the red articles, Zhang opened the museum in December 2007. In eight years, more than 300,000 people have made free visits to the museum, most of them students, Party members and government employees.

  Among the red collections, Chairman Mao memorabilia, including badges, busts and copies of his quotations, are some of the most popular.

  Industry emerges

  Mao's hometown, Shaoshan, Hunan province, has developed an industry producing Mao sculptures since the leader's death in 1976, and thousands of local people have benefited.

  Shaoshan has attracted millions of tourists. In December 2014, a high-speed railway connected the city to Changsha, the provincial capital. Disposable income per capita reached 18,588 yuan that year.

  Sculptures of Mao are popular with tourists visiting Shaoshan. Prices of the most popular bronze busts or statues, depending on size, range from 399 yuan to 1,299 yuan. The prices of some big ones, which are custom made for schools and government organizations, are set by the local commodity pricing bureau.

  Xie Jinshan, manager of a craft shop in Shaoshan who is in his 30s, said Mao statues are the most popular. The sales of his shop exceeds 1 million yuan a year, he said.

  He covers each sculpture with red cloth when it is sold, not only to protect it from damage during transportation but to show his respect to the former leader.

  "Sellers and buyers don't use the word 'buy'," Xie said. "Instead, we use the word 'invite', the same as we invite Buddha statues into our homes. ... Many people nowadays still appreciate what Mao did to liberate the country. The life of my family has improved greatly since I engaged in the industry 10 years ago."

  He added that the sales of big statues, which are generally 1.83 meters tall, Mao's height, fell dramatically in 2015.

  "Governmental organizations, which make up the majority of buyers, have cut their budgets due to the central government's anti-graft campaign. Many of them don't even distribute mooncakes to their employers for the Mid-Autumn Festival, let alone buy expensive bronze statues."

  Ji Yucheng of the China Association of Collectors said that oil paintings and documents are among the most expensive items in the red collections.

  One oil painting, Chairman Mao Goes to Anyuan by Liu Chunhua, was sold at auction for 6.05 million yuan in 1995.

  An edition of Mao's quotations, published in 1944, is worth 180,000 yuan because few of them have appeared on the market.

  Wen Xinzheng in Shaoshan contributed to this story