Hu Shih's 100-year-old diary about studying abroad sells for $20.9 million at auction

By Ji Yuqiao Source: Global Times Published: 2020/10/19 1:22:35

A bronze statue of Hu Shih in Hu Shih Memorial Hall in Taipei, Southeast China's Taiwan Photo: CFP

A set of 18 manuscripts of the diary of Hu Shih, one of the leaders of China's New Culture Movement, about his life while studying abroad fetched nearly 140 million yuan ($20.9 million) on Friday in Beijing, which is believed to be a record for the most expensive diary ever sold at auction.

The manuscripts were written from 1912 to 1918 and recorded Hu thoughts and events during his studies in the US, The Paper reported on Saturday. 

Hu was a Chinese philosopher, essayist and diplomat. He is widely recognized today as a key contributor to Chinese liberalism and language reform in his advocacy for the use of written vernacular Chinese. He went to the US in 1910 and received a doctorate of philosophy seven years later.

The diary was a Cornell University notebook. It is not thick and the contents are mostly written in pen. The handwriting is very dense on both sides, with both Chinese, written vertical columns, and English. 

Some of his handwriting is illegible. He could write thousands of words about a day's event, while some entries were very short. 

The diary was also an emotional vent for Hu. Some parts of the diary show that in his early time in the US, Hu was obsessed with entertainment activities such as drinking, playing cards and going to theaters, and he refreshed and freed himself through writing the diary.

The preservation of the manuscripts is considered a miracle by some experts as it survived decades of war and social unrest in China and the paper is more than 100 years old.

When speaking of the value of the manuscripts and reasons why it sold for such a high price, Liu Zheng, a member of the China Cultural Relics Academy, told the Global Times that it reflects the true situation of students who studied abroad in the early 20th century.

"This is a celebrity's diary, but it is not about one person. The diary is precious material and proof of communication between China and foreign countries at that time," Liu said.

Liu is glad to see the manuscripts sold for such a high price as it is a sign of a new trending that people began to care more about history facts and materials.

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