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An Ever Auction - The Bronze Heads of Old Summer Palace

2016-07-20 15:40:00Share:

In February 2009, the Auction of Old Summer Palace bronze heads was took placed. Two bronze sculptures looted from the Old Summer Palace during the Second Opium War in 1860 were auctioned by international auction house Christie's.

 

  On 25 Feb 2009 the disputed 18th-century fountainheads — heads of a rat and a rabbit — were sold to a Mr. Cai Mingchao (蔡銘超) for 28 million euros as part of an auction of art works owned by the late French designer Yves Saint Laurent.

 

  Cai is an adviser to China's National Treasures Fund, which seeks to retrieve looted treasures by foreign invaders during the Qing dynasty. He then refused to pay the sum bid, claiming that he was bidding on moral and patriotic grounds.

 

  China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage had condemned the sale of the two bronzes and said it would affect Christie's interests in the country, ordering tighter inspections of all cultural relics that the auction house seeks to bring in or out of mainland China.

 

  It stated that the auction of the bronzes "goes against the spirit of relevant international conventions and the international common understanding that cultural relics should be returned to their country of origin."

 

  A press conference was held in Beijing by Cai Mingchao, in which Mr. Cai told reporters that:

 

  He would not pay for the winning bid for the two bronze heads, and was quoted in saying: But I must stress that I will not pay the money.

 

  Mr. Cai said Wednesday’s bids for the bronze heads on moral and patriotic grounds

 

  Cai was quoted in saying: I believe that any Chinese person would stand up at this time... I am making an effort to fulfill my own responsibilities

 

  The current owner of the bronze relics, Pierre Berge told reporter over a French radio interview: "All they (Chinese) have to do is to declare they are going to apply human rights, give the Tibetans back their freedom and agree to accept the Dalai Lama on their territory," "If they do that, I would be very happy to go myself and bring these two Chinese heads to put them in the Summer Palace in Beijing."

 

  Ma Zhouxu, a Foreign Ministry spokesman ridiculed Mr. Bergé’s remarks "To infringe upon Chinese people’s cultural rights on the pretext of human rights is just ridiculous. In modern history, Western imperial powers have looted a lot of Chinese cultural relics. These cultural relics should be returned."

 

  China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage has condemned the proceedings of the auction. The SACH issued a statement condemning Christie's auction of the sculptures and saying it would have "serious effects" on Christie's development in China."

 

  On 27 February, the Chinese government issued tighter customs rules against Christie's in response to the auction.

 

  Meanwhile, the incident has caused uproar within Chinese people, bearing sentiments in regards to the history of British imperialism in China. Ren Xiaohong, a lawyer for the Association for the Protection of Chinese Art in Europe (APACE), has pressed charges against the auction taking place.

 

  The Government of the People's Republic of China has not made plans to purchase the artifacts, as doing so would acknowledge that the bronze heads were taken legally.

 

  Niu Xianfeng, deputy director of the Lost Cultural Relics Recovery Program said "Though it hurts to pay for something that belongs to you, if we want to recover relics sometimes we have to buy them."

 

  Xie Chensheng, the doyen of Chinese cultural relics scholars, said "If your belongings are stolen and you see them in the market the next day you do not buy them back. You call the police." The bronze heads owned by the Chinese are on display at the Poly Art Museum in Beijing.