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Late writer's widow protests auction of letters

Updated: 2013-05-25 01:39
By Lin Qi ( China Daily)

A collection of letters and manuscripts that reveal extensive life details and literary views of renowned writer Qian Zhongshu will go under the hammer in June, despite Qian's 102-year-old widow, Yang Jiang, saying it is "very inappropriate" to publicize the family's private communications.

The sale includes a 207-page manuscript in pen of Qian's collected works Ye Shi Ji, and the original copy of Gan Xiao Liu Ji (Six Chapters from My Life "Downunder"), a humorous memoir by Yang, a renowned writer and translator in her own right.

They will appear on the Beijing-based Sungari International Auction's spring auctions on June 21.

Qian died in 1998 at the age of 88.

The materials belong to Li Guoqiang, a long-time family friend in Hong Kong.

Li met Qian in 1979 when Li then worked as the editor-in-chief of Wide Angle magazine. Li acted as the coordinator when Wide Angle's parent company was to publish the two books. Li established a close relationship with the family, and received the manuscripts as a gift in return for his mediation efforts.

During that time, Li exchanged frequent letters with the couple and their only daughter, Qian Yuan, who died in 1997. More than 80 of the letters will be auctioned.

In the handwritten letters, most in calligraphy, Qian Zhongshu shared his views on literature and famous writers and scholars such as Mao Dun, Lu Xun and Shen Congwen. The comments present the wit and erudition that Qian is well-known for.

Yang called Li to express her disapproval with the sale after she learned about it on Monday. Yang reportedly told Li: "I gave you the manuscripts as a memento, and the letters are totally private communications between us. Why do you want to make them all public?"

Li replied that he knew nothing about the sale, and that it was "his friend" who did it. He promised to send Yang a "written explanation".

Sungari has declined to comment on the sale, or whether the auction will be canceled.

A Sungari senior executive who spoke on condition of anonymity told China Daily that they have great respect for Qian and Yang, and have no intention to hurt the family's feelings.

Manuscripts and letters of prominent literary scholars and writers have recently become sought-after in the art market.

Last year, a series of documents relating to the philosopher and reformist Liang Qichao (1873-1929) fetched 67 million yuan ($10.9 million) in a sale in Beijing. The mainland's leading auction houses also consider holding special sales of documents of celebrated writers and artists of modern China.

"In a time that typing on computer replaces handwriting, manuscripts become rare and valuable subjects of research," said Wu Yiqin, deputy director of the National Museum of Modern Chinese Literature.

"They provide vivid traces of writers' revisions and corrections, drawing a picture of their flows of thoughts. They tell people stories beneath lines of words."

Wu added that while letters speak the rich emotions of writers and their opinions of a lot of issues other than literature, "letters can be seen as 'cultural fossils' in the era of text messages and Weixin (an instant-messaging app)."

Late writer's widow protests auction of letters

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