Lu Xun’s 220-character letter sold for 6.5 million yuan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 November, 2013, 1:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 November, 2013, 5:16pm

A short handwritten letter by the late Lu Xun, a leading figure of modern Chinese literature, about his perspective of learning Japanese, was sold at an auction for 6.56 million yuan (HK$8.3 million) on Monday.

The letter, containing just 220 Chinese characters, came under the media spotlight due to its relatively small number of characters commanding such a sky-high price. Each of the characters in the letter has been calculated as being worth almost 30,000 yuan.

The letter addressing to Tao Kangde, a prominent publisher and editor of Lu’s time, was written in 1934 responding to his inquiry about Japanese language studies, according to China Guardian Auctions, the company that held the auction.

In the letter, Lu Xun, who had travelled to and studied in Japan for seven years in the 1900s, suggested to Tao that studying Japanese to the level of being able to read a thesis was sufficient.

“There is no well-established dictionary that includes the neologism and dialects that are commonly seen in Japanese novels. You can only resort to bringing questions to Japanese people. This is too much trouble,” he wrote.

He also said: “The effort required to master sufficient language skills to read a Japanese novel is no less than that of mastering a western language.” He then recommended Tao to learn a European language instead, as “Europe has masterpiece literatures”.

Song Hao, a senior marketing manager of China Guardian Auctions, on Thursday told the South China Morning Post that the high price was not unusual for such a letter. She attributed the staggering price to the scarcity of Lu Xun’s handwritten letters and the extensive citation of it in other collections of his literary works.

Auctions of letters by late notable figures have been picking up this year. Earlier this year, Lu’s handwritten draft of his collection of ancient stories was sold for 6.9 million yuan. Two letters each from Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao, two founding fathers of the Chinese Communist Party, were sold for 2.4 million and 4.14 million yuan respectively.

Lu Xun was the pen name of Zhou Shuren, who is widely proclaimed as one of China's most influential modern writers in the early 20th century. He is best known for being a profound critic who used irony to criticise Chinese social problems and national character. He showed sympathy to communist ideas and was highly acclaimed by the Communist regime.