The premier philatelic item of the People's Republic of China is the Mei Lanfang sheet issued in 1962. Many PRC items sell for more but those are mostly stamps from the Cultural Revolution or stamps that were deemed political mistakes and were ordered off sale before being distributed to Post Offices and which somehow found their way into the philatelic world anyway. The history of the rise in popularity of the Mei Lanfang sheet is more or less the story of the rise in PRC philately itself.
Before Nixon's trip to China in 1972, the stamps of PRC were illegal to import into the United States. As China was still a very poor country, very few sheets were saved and even by 1975 it was clear that the Mei Lanfang sheet was destined to be one of the centerpieces of any PRC collection. Its price rise has been meteoric going from just a few dollars in the early 1970's to a catalog value of over $12000 today (with realizations often much higher). We are selling a sheet in our auction next week and it will interesting to watch the intense bidding. Stamp collecting in the PRC is superheated. The reasons are several. First, there is a nationalistic pride at the accomplishments that China has achieved and philately has become a manifestation of this. And stamps have become a wonderful investment vehicle in China. Just as the rise in the price of gold is driven by the rise in the price of gold, the market in Chinese stamps has a pyramid quality. But the underlying reality is that there are over a billion Chinese and only a few thousand Mei Lanfang sheets. If China continues its great leap forward towards wealth, and philately stays anywhere near as popular as it is today, $12000 for a Mei Lanfang sheet will look quite cheap in a few years.