A set of rice bowls produced exclusively for Mao Zedong has been auctioned in Hong Kong on Thursday for a record HK$8 million ahead of the 120th anniversary of the chairman's birth later this year.
The price falls short of the original estimate of HK$10 million to HK$12.5 million set by Poly Auction Hong Kong, the local subsidiary of the Beijing-based auction house.
The set of five ceramic bowls dates from 1974 and features the flowery decoration typical of the ceramics, known as "Chairman porcelain", that have been exclusively produced for the Great Helmsman.
"It represents the highest level of ceramics production in China," the auction house wrote in its catalogue. "The thickness of the bowls is less than 1mm."
The set is one of 10 that were manufactured in Liling, in Mao's home province Hunan, for his 81st birthday.
Mao had revived the porcelain manufacturing industry in Hunan in the 1950s to provide tableware to the central leadership. The plain ceramics were said to be inspired by those Mao had used a decade earlier in his then-powerbase Yanan, when the Red Army was still fighting for control.
In 1975, the central government moved its exclusive porcelain manufacturing to Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province, a city with a millennial tradition of producing china for imperial households.
Chairman porcelain, sometimes also called Mao porcelain, has long had high value for collectors. At an auction in Beijing in 1996, a 68-piece set of Chairman porcelain fetched 7.9 million yuan (HK$10 million).
The set of bowls auctioned on Thursday was sold by a private mainland collector. The sale, which included 102 other objects, was sponsored by a Hunan government subsidiary, the provincial Office of Hunan Cultural Industry.
The provincial government has spared no effort in celebrating Mao's 120th birthday in December. Xiangtan, the city overseeing Mao's birthplace Shaoshan, reportedly plans to spend more than 6 billion yuan on festivities.
The exquisite porcelain, its high auction price and the lavish festivities are in stark contrast to a call in this month's edition of Seeking Truth, the Communist Party's leading magazine, to "learn from Mao Zedong's frugal thought and work style".