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The Red Colllector

Stepping into Jin Tiehua's home is like entering an overstocked museum devoted to Mao Zedong, the late leader of the People's Republic of China.


In the 100 square meters three-bedroom apartments, Mao smiles down from different sized photos on walls; Mao's statues crowd every shelf and corner; old magazines and newspapers are piled on floor, and boxes of collections occupy so much space that even his family have to leap or bow down when walking across the room.


Here we have all kinds of interesting material that was produced dozens of years ago: badges, stamps, bookmarks, envelopes, passports, sleeve emblems, land contracts, war leaflets, party membership applications, old gramophone records, and even primary school textbooks and children's homework from the era of War of Resistance against Japan.


"I call my collection a themed variation: any relics related to Chairman Mao and the revolutionary era are what I am trying to gather," laughed Jin.


Starting his collection at the age of ten, the 55-year-old has now accumulated more than ten thousand different "red relics" from over the past four decades. And the number is still growing, since Jin, after retiring last year, now has much more time to spend looking for his treasure.


Among his collection there are precious relics like a complete series of foreign stamps bearing Mao's portraits; an edition of New Youth magazine that includes Mao's first published article, Studies on Physical Education; a copy of Mao's exam paper from middle school; original issues of Youth China, Liberation Daily and Anti-Japanese War Daily and Communist Party Constitution enacted at the seventh Party Representative Assembly, which for the first time announced Mao's leading role.


Jin also has a unique hand delivered military envelope dating from during the War of Resistance Against Japan. The letter was sent from the transportation headquarters to the 4th transportation inspection department, with Mao Zedong's portrait and a special military mail seal on the back. Experts have estimated that it was used in Shandong between 1935 and 1945. But in all other archives there is no record of such a mail seal, so it may actually be a rare urgent letter from that time, and worth at least half a million yuan now.


His collection of a special war diary is another legend. The two-volume diary depicts in great detail the activities of the No 129 division of the Eighth Route Army in 1942 and 1943, including the division's tough fighting in the Taihang mountain area, as well as details of commanders Deng Xiaoping and Liu Bocheng's daily lives at that time. It is precious archive material and reveals a lot of unknown historical events.


For years Jin has tried all means to track down the diary's original owner. With the help of the media, Xu Wei, the writer of the diary, was eventually located, by which time he was already an old man in his seventies. He turned out to be the editing committee secretary of Xinhua Daily, and the former secretary-general of the People's Daily.


"It was a sense of indebtedness that made me crazy about making such a collection," said Jin.


As the offspring of Qing dynasty royalty, Jin's family had long been despised and had endured a hard life after the dynasty was overthrown. That is, until the People's Republic of China was established, when the fate of the family began to change for the better. His father, an outstanding craftsman who made silk flowers, was selected as a model worker, while Jin's mother, because of her handicap, started to receive an allowance every month from the government.


Grateful for such happy changes and spurred by his worship of Mao Zedong, Jin began his collecting. Over the past 40 years he has put almost all his savings and free time into his collecting activities. The Baoguosi old book market and the Panjiayuan old goods market became like his second office -- every week he would spend at least three whole days there. "Any relics, once they enter my door, I will never sell them nor throw them away," he laughed.


His rich collection has also helped Jin become good friends with many scholars. They often come to his home to refer to the relics for their studies. The China Museum of the War of Resistance Against Japan also borrows his relics for exhibitions.


(China Daily August 15, 2005)

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