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Mercedes limousine once owned by colleague of Chairman Mao to sell at Bonhams
1965 M-B 600 Pullman - interior. Photo: Bonhams.

STUTTGART.- Bonhams is due to sell a 1965 Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman Limousine that was once owned by General Chen Li, one of the military leaders of the Chinese Communist Revolution and a close associate of Chairman Mao Zedong.

Featured as part of the July 12th Mercedes-Benz sale in Stuttgart, Germany, the Maoist era Pullman is estimated at €150,000 - €250,000 (£120,150 - £200,250 / 1.3 million – 2.1 million yuan).

One of only 428 Pullman limousines out of a total of 2,677 Mercedes-Benz 600s made, this example is one of two imported from West Germany by the Chinese government in 1965.

Son of a magistrate, Chen Yi was born in Sichuan Province in 1901 during China’s last Qing Dynasty, 11 years before China became a republic. He attended school in Chengdu and in 1918, aged 17, was selected to join a work/study programme in France.

Expelled from France in 1922 together with his colleagues, he returned to Sichuan and the following year joined both the Communist Party and the nationalist Kuomintang. His education continued at the Sino-French University and Whampoa Military Academy.

Throwing in his lot with the communists, Chen Yi fought against the Kuomintang during the failed Nanchang Uprising of 1927 and in the spring of 1928 joined Chairman Mao Zedong in Jinggangshan, serving as head of the New Fourth Army’s political department.

One of the Chinese Communist Party’s most able commanders, Chen fought the occupying Japanese during World War Two and the Kuomintang in the civil war that followed. On the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, he was appointed Mayor of Shanghai.

From 1954 he served as Vice Premier and, relinquishing his mayoral duties, as Foreign Minister from 1958 to 1972. In the latter role he would become one of China’s most widely travelled statesmen, often dressed in a white suit on his visits abroad.

Criticised during the Cultural Revolution but never formally dismissed, Chen Yi’s political influence began to decline, until his eventual passing in 1972.

Chen’s Mercedes-Benz 600 had by then been given to the government-owned Shanghai car plant to serve as the pattern for a Chinese-produced version, only for the coming of the Cultural Revolution to force the plan’s abandonment. The car remained in storage until the 1980s when it was discovered by Hans Luwich, a German engineer working for Volkswagen Shanghai. He shipped the 600 back to Germany in 1993 and titled the car in 1998. In February 2014 Mr Luwich sold the Mercedes to the Netherlands.

Philip Kantor, Head of European Motorcars, said: “Never before restored, this historic car is still in excellent, original working condition. It offers a fascinating glimpse into a significant time in the history of the People’s Republic of China, and we’re delighted to be able to offer it as part of our July 12th Mercedes-Benz sale.

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