An 11th century letter of just 124 characters by a famed scholar of China has set a new record price for a work of Chinese calligraphy, fetching a whopping US $32 million at an auction in Beijing.
The letter, titled Jushi Tie, which translates as “a letter on happenings”, is thought to be the only surviving work by Song dynasty scholar Zeng Gong, considered one of the greatest prose writers of the Song Dynasty era (960 to 1279 AD).
Wang Zhongjun, a Chinese film mogul and art collector known for his fondness of Van Gogh paintings, bought the letter for 207 million yuan or US $32 million.
In the letter, written around 936 years ago, Zeng tells a close friend whom he had not seen for three years about his recent political difficulties and a feeling of isolation.
He speaks of his feelings of isolation and depression after being exiled from Beijing for more than 12 years.
The then 61-year-old Zeng expressed gratitude for his friend’s longtime support, and anxiety about not being able to serve in the royal court and fully implement his ideas about governance in the letter.
“In this letter he pours his heart out,” Yi Guanghua, a specialist at China Guardian, explained prior to the sale on Sunday at the China Guardian auction house.
According to China Daily, the letter has almost doubled in value since it was last auctioned in 2009, when it fetched 108 million yuan. It was a record breaker then, too, becoming the first piece of Chinese calligraphy to be sold for more than 100 million yuan.
The price is unlikely to have fazed its new owner, though. Wang is known for spending big on art, having shelled out US $61.8 million on the Van Gogh work Still Life, Vase with Daisies and Poppies when it was auctioned in New York in 2014, the Guardian reported on Tuesday .
The letter includes Zeng’s own signature, which has increased the value exponentially of the script, which is just 124 characters long and made its auction debut more than 20 years ago at Sotheby’s in New York, where it was sold for 4.5 million yuan.
As of the latest and the third deal, the work’s value has increased by 45 times in 20 years.