Stolen Mao Zedong calligraphy said to be worth billions torn in half by Hong Kong buyer who thought it was fake

  • The man who bought the artwork for HK$500 believed it was counterfeit and cut it in two for storage purposes
  • The scroll was part of the biggest burglary in the city's history, with the items estimated to be worth HK$5 billion
South China Morning Post |
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A HK$2.3 billion calligraphy scroll by Mao Zedong was torn into two pieces after being resold for HK$500 to a man who believed it a counterfeit. Photo: Handout

An HK$2.3 billion calligraphy scroll written by Mao Zedong, part of a haul stolen last month from the flat of a Hong Kong collector, was cut into two pieces after being resold for a few hundred dollars to a man who thought it was a counterfeit.

The buyer was one of three people arrested so far in connection with the massive heist, including one of the suspected burglars.

A police insider said the calligraphy piece was the most expensive item stolen in what was believed to be the biggest burglary in city history but it was sold for a mere HK$500 to a purchaser who – believing it a counterfeit – cut it into two pieces for storage purposes.

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The owner of the scroll, Fu Chunxiao, a well-known collector of stamps and revolutionary art, said on Wednesday that he was distressed about the damage.

“It was heartbreaking to see it be torn into two pieces,” he said. “It will definitely affect its value, but the impact remains to be seen.”

Fu said he had wanted to donate the calligraphy piece before the burglary happened, although he stopped short of saying where, adding that he did not know when he would get the piece back.

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“I have not made a decision as to how to deal with it, [and won’t] until I get it back,” he said. 

The damage to the artwork came to light when the purchaser learned of the burglary case via a public appeal by police, then surrendered himself with the two halves on September 22. 

Inside the man’s Wan Chai flat, officers also recovered two copper coins that were stolen in the same burglary. 

A revolutionary-era stamp that was stolen during the massive burglary of a Yau Ma Tei flat last month. Photo: Handout

Police arrested the 49-year-old on suspicion of handling stolen property. He has since been released on bail pending further investigation.

When asked why the artwork was cut into two pieces, Senior Superintendent Tony Ho Chun-tung of the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau, said: “Someone thought the calligraphy was too long – 2.8 metres in length – and it was difficult to show and display it. That’s why it was cut in half.”

He said it was among seven pieces of calligraphy purportedly written by Mao, 24,327 stamps and 10 copper coins that were stolen from the collector’s flat in Yau Ma Tei on September 10.

Ho said the owner claimed the haul was estimated to be worth about HK$5 billion, though police were still trying to confirm the exact value of the stolen property through different channels. 

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After an in-depth investigation, officers from the triad bureau arrested one of the suspected burglars, aged 44, and his friend during a raid on a Yau Ma Tei flat on Tuesday.

One source said the 47-year-old friend had been arrested for assisting an offender by providing a hideout.

On Wednesday evening, the duo were still being held for questioning and had not been charged.

Police are still searching for two of the three burglars who broke into Fu’s home nearly four weeks ago. It is understood police have identified the two remaining suspects.

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