Wo shi Mao zhuxi de youpiaoyuan - an excerpt
by Guo Ningyi
Guo Ningyi was Mao's official philatelist from 1940 until the Chairman's death in 1976, tasked with maintaining and organising the Great Helmsman's large collection of stamps. We are proud to present this excerpt from Mr Guo's memoir Wo shi Mao zhuxi de youpiaoyuan - "I was Chairman Mao's stamp guy".
Stamps were a constant in the life of the Chairman. During troubled times, such as the 1960s and 1970s, their placid shapes and perforated edges were sometimes, he confided in me, the only thing kept him together. I well remember in those latter years the look of childlike joy he would get as he showed me some new acquisition for the collection. There he would be, sitting opposite me on the divan behind a plate piled high with buns, beaming as he passed me some rare 19th century Dutch specimens, the latest cricket-themed commemorative set from Niue or even something as simple as an airmail sticker with an unusual ink stain.
In later years, the Chairman became more of an admirer of stamps than an avid collector. He appreciated the collection he had and always welcomed such gifts as were presented to him, but the thrill of the hunt had gone. When you can mobilise a quarter of the world to search for, say, a 1918 "Inverted Jenny", much of the thrill is gone. Nonetheless, Mao never lost his love for his stamps - in many ways they were a trophy of the hard times, souvenirs that were hard-won through life and death struggle.
During the War of Single-Handed Victory Over Japan, for example, stamps were more often hard to come by than not. So it was with some relish that Mao requisitioned eight Imperial Japanese postage stamps captured by our Communist forces in a raid on a Japanese garrison in September 1943. They had been affixed to postcards that Japanese soldiers intended to send home. But now, seized by China's valiant soldiers, they were brought back to our camp in triumph and, amid cries of jubilation, carefully affixed to some of our few remaining stamp hinges (by 1943, stamp album supplies were running low) and placed in Chairman Mao's album. Later on, stamps helped advance the cause of peace too.
Everyone remembers the so-called "ping-pong diplomacy" of the 1970s, but in fact stamp-collecting's contributions to the diplomatic process must not be overlooked. Mao and Kissinger's shared interest in the subject helped along those first tentative conversations between China and the US. And who can forget when, on the occasion of US President Richard Nixon's visit, Chairman Mao showed his visitor his display cases of his most valued stamps, explaining that he arranged them so as to mimic the poetry of the classical writer Han Yu. It was then that Nixon famously quipped "imitation is the sincerest form of philately". Why that single joke may have done more for Sino-American relations than the entire Korean War!
It was because of key stamp-related events like this in the course of his life that in 1976, mere weeks before his timely demise, Mao was reported to have said, "you know, I really like stamps."
Wo shi Mao zhuxi de youpiaoyuan will be published in hardback in February 2007 and will then be banned on the mainland five weeks later. It will subsequently be published in full-form characters in Taiwan and available in English via a specialist publisher in Hong Kong.