Auctions | March 21, 2013

Xi’an Incident Letters and Manuscripts Brought $2.7 Million at Bonhams

NEW YORK — Bonhams third Asia Week auction, the Xi’an Incident: The Papers of Hyland “Bud” Lyon on March 20 featured never before seen letters and documents surrounding the pivotal 1936 Xi’an Incident and brought over $2.7 million. The unique sale was only eight lots long, although the auction took over an hour due to the continual bidding wars between the attendees, international phone bidders and online bidders primarily from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong — although Europe and the United States were represented as well. The salesroom brimmed with excitement, and occasionally broke out in applause, as lot after lot exceeded pre-sale estimates. 

“There will never be another auction quite like this,” said sale specialist, Dr. Catherine Williamson, Bonhams Director of Fine Books & Manuscripts. “I am thrilled with the results, and very excited about the market for rare Chinese manuscripts going forward.”

The top lot was a manuscript from Zhang Xueliang written on January 6, 1937 during a plane ride between Xi’an and Nanjing as he traveled to turn himself in to Chiang Kai-shek after the Xi’an Incident. The intensely personal and patriotic document gives rare insight into the emotional state of the “Young Marshal,” a man who forever changed the course of Modern Chinese History. The manuscript sold for $854,500, more than 20 times its pre-sale low estimate. It is the only known record of his feelings about the Xi’an Incident — he never publicly discussed the event. 

Two copies of a peace agreement signed by Mao Zedong, titled “Resistance against Japan,” sold for $506,500. The agreement sought to unite the Communist and Nationalist militaries in order to resist the invading Japanese army and create a new, democratic government for China. The documents were prepared for Zhang Xueliang’s signature, but he purportedly presented them to Chiang Kai-shek, who refused to sign.

An archive of correspondence, photographs and ephemera from Hyland ‘Bud’ Lyon himself sold for a stunning $482,500, close to 10 times its pre-sale low estimate. Bud Lyon, a Hollywood stuntman and airplane mechanic, followed a showgirl to China in the 1930s where he eventually became the Zhang Xueliang’s personal pilot and confidant. He eventually returned to the US at the outbreak of WWII. The archive is a treasure trove of information about China in the 1930s, including Lyon’s typed narrative of his years there as well as additional memorabilia relating to Zhang Xueliang and Edith Chao. 

Bonhams next auction of Fine Books & Manuscripts will take place June 25 in New York.