November 9, 2020

Monday, November 09, 2020 - ,, No comments

Biggest Theft in Hong Kong History from Stamp Collector

Homes in Hong Kong, sitting empty this year as a result of the pandemic, have become a target for opportunistic thieves. According to statistics household thefts rose from 786 cases in 2019 to 1,156 cases in the first half of 2020 with unoccupied homes in the Chinese territory being particularly at risk.  In early September an apartment on Nathan Road in Yau Ma Te belonging to Fu Chunxiao was one of those targeted.   

The theft in the Yau Tsim Mong District in the south of the Kowloon Peninsula in Hong Kong was reported on September 10th when the building security guard observed that an iron gate to the residence had been pried open and the wood door to Fu's apartment left ajar.  Inside there were signs of ransacking.  Police found evidence of a forced break-in and security video footage of three men who appeared in their 30’s leaving the building.  According to police the theft did not seem to be the work of professionals and could possibly have been a crime of chance by someone who knew that the owner was out of town and that there were valuables inside the apartment.   

Fu mainly used the flat for storage of his vast collection of stamps and revolutionary art and was at his home in mainland China at the time his home in Hong Kong was hit.  The full extent of the items stolen and their value didn’t come to light until after Fu sent his daughter to assist in the investigation and provided documentation relating to the objects stolen.  

Fu is a well-known stamp collector as well as a member of the Hong Kong Philatelic Society.  In 2018 he loaned more than 200 of his collection to an exhibition of Mao related stamps held in Hong Kong.  In total, it is estimated that the thieves took 24,000 vintage stamps, 10 bronze coins, and 30 to 50 artworks including works of calligraphy, paintings and even seven scrolls attributed to the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong.  

The estimated loss of these items is between HK4-5 billion (€440-550 million), which would make this the biggest theft in Hong Kong history.  One of the most valuable of the stolen stamps is a 1968 Chinese postage stamp known as “the whole country is red”.  It is a very rare stamp and is one of only nine believed to remain today.  Another was auctioned off in 2018 for KH$15.8 million (€1.7 million).  It is one of the most expensive stamps in the world.  The stamp represents the political revolution of communism in China and shows a crowd of smiling citizens carrying ‘Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung’, known also as Mao’s “Little Red Book”.  The stamp also shows the entirety of mainland China filled with red, while Taiwan is only bordered with red and filled with white; this created a controversy at the time as China claims Taiwan as territory.  The stamp was immediately recalled from use and production, leaving only a few of them in existence. 

Image Credit: South China Morning Post

The first lead in the case came on September 22nd when an individual with the surname of Lin (Lam in Cantonese) surrendered himself to the police after learning of the theft and was arrested for the handling of stolen goods.  After searching his apartment Hong Kong police recovered two bronze coins and a calligraphy scroll, which had been cut into two pieces.  The scroll is said to contain poetry by Mao Zedong and was estimated to be worth HK$2.3 billion (€253 million) prior to the theft.  

Image Credit: Hong Kong Police Force

According to the investigation Lin had thought the scroll was a fake at the time he purchased it for HK$500 (€55).  The scroll was originally about 2 meters tall but had been cut in half in order to be better displayed. Fu commented that “It was heartbreaking to see it torn into two pieces,” and that “it will definitely affect its value, but the impact remains to be seen.”  

The recovered scroll was one of seven in Fu’s collection credited to Mao Zedong who was known to be a poet as well as a calligrapher.  Mao’s extensive calligraphic works inspired a new style of calligraphy known as “Mao style” which has gained popularity since his death in 1976.  The first work by Mao to appear in an international auction was a letter from Mao to the journalist Yang Yi which was auctioned by Sotheby’s in 2019 and sold for £519,000 (€574,000).  

On October 6th two further arrests were made in relation to the case based upon information given to the police by the taxi driver who picked the thieves up from the crime scene.  Two suspects were arrested in Yau Ma Tei, one known as Wu, age 44, has been charged with burglary and another known as Tan, age 47, has been arrested for harboring an offender.  It was only after these arrests were made that the police made the announcement about the recovery of the scroll, although the police are still looking for two further suspects.   No other items from the theft have been recovered.  

By: Lynette Turnblom