Rare Mao porcelain rice bowl to go under the hammer

Bowl commissioned by the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong will go up for auction in the UK in May

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 March, 2017, 11:35pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 March, 2017, 11:53am

A rare porcelain rice bowl commissioned by the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong for his own use will be put up for auction by a Hong Kong collector.

The bowl is part of a collection that also includes cups and other tableware. The items are a throwback to a time towards the end of the Cultural Revolution when Mao’s power was paramount in China.

Mao ordered 4,000 pieces of porcelain including bowls, cups and other tableware to be made under the most demanding conditions in Jingdezhen, the most famous porcelain producing town on the mainland.

“In order to make sure they were safe for Mao to use, all porcelain made in Jingdezhen had to be lead free,” said the collector.

“Two hundred artisans spent a full two years making the porcelain, and in the end 900 pieces were chosen to be sent to Beijing for the use of Mao and other official dignitaries,” he said.

“The rest were ordered to be destroyed. However, the director of the Institute of Arts which made the porcelain did not want them to be destroyed, so he made up an excuse to put them into storage – so that the institute could send replacements to Beijing if the cups and dishes were broken.”

The institute that made the porcelain later ran into financial difficulty and gave some of these items to staff in lieu of salaries – meaning some of the items, made for state leaders, came into the hands of ordinary people.

Mao Zedong’s rice bowls auction for record HK$8m in Hong Kong

“Mao porcelains” are seen as special for their historical significance, and have long been highlights whenever they were auctioned. In 2013, a set of about five rice bowls commissioned by Mao was sold for HK$8 million by Polly Auction Hong Kong, but they were made in Mao’s home province Hunan.

The Mao porcelain bowl will be auctioned in the UK in May by Lyon and Turnbull, in partnership with Macey & Sons in Hong Kong.

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The Hong Kong collector’s family bought some of the rare items while doing business on the mainland.

In 1996, a 68-piece set of Mao porcelain fetched 7.9 million yuan (HK$10 million) when it was sold in Beijing.