Ancient Chinese letter of just 124 characters sold for $43 million

The 124-character note by famed politician and scholar Zeng Gong.
The 124-character note by famed politician and scholar Zeng Gong.PHOTO: CHINA DAILY/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK

BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A letter dating some 1,000 years back to the Song dynasty (960-1279) has been sold for a staggering 207 million yuan (S$43.4 million) in China.

The 124-character note by famed politician and scholar Zeng Gong was sold to Chinese media mogul and art collector Wang Zhongjun at a Beijing auction on Sunday night.

Titled Jushi Tie (A Letter on Happenings),the letter was written on Sept 27, 1080, during Zeng's 12-year service in local administrations.

In the letter, he thanks an unidentified friend for being supportive in the long term. Between the lines, however, he also shows a dissatisfaction at being unable to implement his political ideas in the royal court.

Zeng is ranked among the "eight masters of prose of the Tang (618-907) and Song dynasties". Very few of his writings still exist.

Once owned by Belgian collectors Guy and Myriam Ullens, the letter was sold for 108.6 million yuan at an auction in 2009.

The participation of Wang, who bid over the phone, surprised many people, since he is known for being an ardent buyer of contemporary Chinese and, recently, Western art.

He spent US$29.9 million (S$40.86 million) on a Picasso painting, Woman With a Hairbun on a Sofa, at a Sotheby's sale in New York in May last year.

The letter by Zeng Gong topped the Grand View auction of classical Chinese paintings, staged by China Guardian Auctions, which grossed 1.11 billion yuan in total.

In the same sale, a calligraphic album in running script by the Ming calligrapher Song Ke was sold for 92 million yuan to Zhang Xiaojun of Shanxi province. An album of calligraphic Buddhist sutras, poems and paintings by intellectuals from the Tang and later dynasties sold for 57.5 million yuan.

The Grand View auction of classical Chinese ink art, held twice a year, is seen as a barometer of China's art market.

Luan Juli, general manager of China Guardian's Chinese painting department, said after the sale that classical Chinese art will play a bigger role in supporting the whole art market.

The most expensive classical Chinese ink art sold at auction is Di Zhu Ming, a calligraphic hand scroll by Song Dynasty master Huang Tingjian that fetched 436.8 million yuan in Beijing in 2010.