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Letters for auction despite widow's protest

By  Li Qian   (Shanghai Daily)

08:48, May 28, 2013

A Beijing auction house says it has no plans to withdraw an acclaimed scholar's letters and manuscripts from sale despite protests from his 102-year-old widow and legal experts.

On June 21, the Sungari International Auction Co Ltd is selling 66 letters Qian Zhongshu wrote to a family friend.

The sale also includes the original copy of "Six Chapters from My Life 'Downunder,'" featuring his wife's memoir of their life in Henan Province during the "cultural revolution (1966-1976)," and letters from his daughter, Qian Yuan, to the friend.

Yang Jiang, the writer's widow, said her husband made some controversial remarks in the letters that it would be inappropriate to publish. He insinuates that two famous literary figures, Lu Xun and Mao Dun, were unfaithful to their wives and that a couple, both famous translators, had not interpreted a Chinese classic well.

The items for auction belong to Li Kwok-Keung, formerly editor-in-chief of Hong Kong-based Wide Angle Magazine.

He was a family friend who exchanged letters with the family and is said to have received manuscripts as gifts.

On Sunday, Yang issued a statement saying she felt "hurt and shocked" about Li's actions. "I totally can't understand how can letters between friends - extremely private communication - be auctioned off? Can privacy, trust, emotion be traded? I totally can't accept it."

If the letters and manuscripts go under the hammer, she said she would file a lawsuit to guard the legal rights of her husband and daughter, who died in 1998 and 1997, as well as her own.

Li said it was one of his friends who had suggested the auction. He said he had received a phone call from Yang and promised to send her a written explanation, the Legal Evening News reported.

A Sungari executive told the newspaper they had made great efforts to collect the letters and wouldn't withdraw them from auction. He said the items going under the hammer provide new insights for students of contemporary literature.

The report cited professors from Tsinghua, Peking and Renmin universities as saying the sale violated privacy and copyright unless approval had been granted by the writers.

Qian was born in the east Chinese city of Wuxi in 1910 and studied in Oxford and Paris, together with Yang, between 1935 and 1938. He earned fame for his critiques of Western and Chinese literature, as well as his short stories and his widely read novel "Fortress Besieged," which was turned into a television play.

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