Twenty stitchers took four years to complete an extraordinary work - the million-word Chinese classic "Dream of the Red Chamber" embroidered in silk.

The colossal work was to be auctioned in Hong Kong this spring to celebrate the British colony's July 1, 1997, return to Chinese sovereignty, Xinhua news agency said Wednesday."The base price for the embroidered handiwork will be HK$1997.701, a symbol of the day when the Chinese government resumes its control of Hong Kong," Xinhua said.

If earlier auctions of such symbolic works are a guide, the needlework could fetch millions at auction. Xinhua did not say who financed the work or who would pocket the proceeds.

A city official in Shenyang, capital of northeast Liaoning province where it was made, said 20 embroiderers stitched for four years to complete the work, filling 12 silken volumes.

The volumes, each 11 by 7 inches and covered in red satin, contain in total more than one million Chinese characters - the full text of what is regarded as one of four great novels of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).

The volumes contain 185 scenes from the novel, also embroidered with colored silk thread.