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China: Around The Nation

Auctioneers of the world unite, Marx is worth more than loose change: philosopher’s notes now sell for vast sums in China

Billionaire ‘superfan’ of the father of Communism is putting a single page from his notebook up for auction with a starting price of US$157,000

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 9:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 5:20pm

Karl Marx famously lived most of his life in poverty, but now a single page of his writings is going on sale for the equivalent of US$157,000 in China.

The handwritten note, which is currently owned by one of China’s new breed of super-rich capitalists, is being put up for auction next week with a starting price of 1 million yuan.

Although China has enthusiastically embraced many aspects of modern-day capitalism, Communism remains the country’s official ideology.

Karl Marx at 200: the giant Chinese statue that has become a figure of controversy in Germany’s Trier

The authorities recently staged a series of events to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the German philosopher’s birth with President Xi Jinping saying that Marx’s theories were still “totally correct” for the modern era.

Monday’s auction will also include the sale of a manuscript by Friedrich Engels, Marx’s friend and the co-author of The Communist Manifesto, according to the website of the Beijing Council International Auction Company.

Engels, whose wealthy family owned a textile factory, financially supported Marx throughout much of his life especially while his friend was writing and researching Das Kapital.

Despite his fellow German émigré’s largesse, Marx and his family spent years living in poor-quality accommodation.

When he died in London in 1881 after years of poor health, he left only a modest estate of £250 (worth around £28,750 or US$38,900 today).

The auctioneer said the handwritten note by Marx – in English and German – came from one of 24 unpublished volumes known as the London Notebooks, which he produced between 1850 and 1853 while living in the British capital.

The page going on sale is a commentary on the book A Practical Treatise on Banking by the English economist James William Gilbart. Marx later cited the work as a significant reference work in the third volume of Das Kapital.

Most of the London Notebooks are kept in museums and archives in Berlin and Amsterdam.

The Engels manuscript is an 1862 commentary for the German newspaper the Allgemeine Millitärzeitung discussing the Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War.

The Chinese businessman and collector Feng Lun, who claims to be a Marx “superfan”, is selling the manuscripts.

The billionaire made his fortune from real estate development in 1990s in the reform and opening, and later co-founded a bank and invested in a range of businesses.

Feng said he bought them from a Taiwanese collector and the money raised will go to charity and to fund historical research.

Would Karl Marx recognise China’s new communism?

In Marx’s most influential works, Das Kapital and the Communist Manifesto, he put forward the theory of the class struggle, urging the proletariat to rise up, and predicted the destruction of the capitalist system.

When China turned its back on Mao Zedong’s brand of Marxism following the chairman’s death, the country embarked on a series of capitalist reforms starting in 1978 that have led to decades of rapid economic growth but have also seen a growing divide between rich and poor.

But Marxist theory is still a key component of the country’s official ideology and the government recently donated a statue to the philosopher’s hometown of Trier in western Germany to celebrate his bicentenary.