TUCKED away in a curio shop at Hollywood Road's less fashionable end stands a life-size porcelain statue of a youthful Comrade Mao Zedong, cap on head, map of China resting on his knee. The piece is rare and the shop-owner knows it. Not only does he sport a notice resembling a Red Guard armband warning the public not to touch him or take photos, he also carries a hefty price tag: $500,000. For Marc Faber, Hong Kong's 'doom, boom and gloom' investment adviser and probably its most avid collector of communist memorabilia, the price is 'on the high side.' But he doesn't doubt its value to other collectors. 'It's unusual and there are very few statues like that around,' he says. Indeed, two decades after the Cultural Revolution juggernaut puffed out its last piece of propaganda, supply of early Mao art and the hundreds of millions of badges, posters, busts and statues which swamped China from 1968 until his death in 1976 is drying up. Mr Faber, whose office is festooned with pieces, says three years ago his buyers could pick up 10,000 Mao badges in one go. 'Now it's difficult to buy 1,000,' he says. He estimates that of the hundreds of millions of buttons pressed during the Cultural Revolution only five to 10 million might remain. 'With such a big population in China all you need is one million collectors or one out of 1,000 people buying 10 badges each and the whole supply is taken out,' he says. As with most genuine memorabilia, be it baseball cards or film posters, disappearing supply is enough to arouse the interest of collectors and novices alike. A single baseball card recently fetched a record US$450,000. Mr Faber, who says he has more than 100,000 badges stashed away in a small warehouse, says the price of a badge could, in years to come, soar from about $20 now to $800 or more. Rarer pieces might possibly fetch 10 times that. Taiwanese collectors are said to be among the more enthusiastic buyers, chasing the pricier pieces such as portraits, statues and ceramics. But not all collectors are motivated by potential profits. 'Mao is inevitably an intrinsic part of China's modern history,' says David Tang, whose China Club groans under the weight of its revolutionary posters exhorting mainland workers on to greater toils and its pop-art depictions of the Great Helmsman. 'He is as much a part of modern China as Kennedy in the US and De Gaulle in France. This historical fact will remain. So it's not surprising there should be international interest, as there is international interest in China.' Art and paraphernalia produced during Hitler's reign in Germany, those of Lenin and Stalin in Russia and the late Kim Il-sung in North Korea hold a similar appeal for many people. Some observers put the heightened interest in Mao and the artistic tools used to further his revolution down to the worldwide trend towards nostalgia - witness the arrival of old Shanghai-style eateries and Tang's Shanghai Tang - retro art and downright kitsch. Kitsch is the only way to describe the porcelain spawned by the period. Figurines show people of all hues and in various states of adoration all turning towards a central figure or picture of Mao. Others depict muscular gongren (workers) handling machinery or rifle-toting PLA soldiers advancing fiercely into battle. Another factor fuelling interest may be the recent Wild Swans-led wave of books highlighting the Cult of Mao and the futility of one of the most disastrous periods in Chinese history. Michael Cave, a journalist who read the books and is now buying the art, says he is intrigued about the artists used as tools of the chairman's propaganda machine: 'It's the whole thing about artistic freedom. You wonder how many of them willingly gave it up.' He bought his first item, porcelain figures of a worker, peasant and soldier, for $1,600 as 'a conversation piece'. 'Ninety per cent of its appeal is that it's so kitsch.' Hong Kong curio shops, particularly those in Hollywood Road, tend to be the best places to find such memorabilia, while the Sun Chau Book Co in Stanley Street stocks a small number of posters priced from $100 upwards. In China you are more likely to turn up interesting pieces by scouring the inland areas rather than the big cities. Both here and in China, collectors advise checking the dates of items carefully. Some pieces look old but may have been made more recently.