BEIJING -- The Chinese antique collector who bid at a Christie's auction for two looted bronze animal heads, Tuesday told why he has refused to pay his winning bid.
The two looted pieces were not allowed to enter China according to a regulation issued a day after the auction by China's cultural relics administration, and as a result, the payment should not be made, Cai Mingchao said in a statement released by the National Treasure Funds of China (NTFC).
China has repeatedly demanded the return of the sculptures - heads of a rat and a rabbit - looted when the Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan) was burned down by Anglo-French allied forces during the Second Opium War in 1860.
"The auction negated the history that the cultural relics were looted, defied the ethics of international society, and breached the rules of commercial auctions," Cai said in the statement, which was e-mailed to Xinhua.
Cai said that the sculptures would disappear forever and auctioning looted antiques could become a commercial practice had he not been the final bidder at the auction in Paris on February 25.
"I got the chance and I was capable of buying the bronzes at the time of the auction. As a Chinese collector and art advisor, I'm willing to rescue looted artworks," Cai, NTFC's collection advisor, emphasized.
Cai won the auction by bidding 31.49 million euros ($39.63 million) by telephone, but he told a press conference Monday that no payment would be made.
So far, five of the 12 bronze animal heads have been returned, while the whereabouts of five others are unknown.
An online survey conducted by sina.com.cn showed more than 70 percent of the netizens support Cai's patriotic action for he had safeguarded China's interests. However, others said China's reputation would be affected and Christie's is still able to hold new auctions.
An attempt to contact Cai failed and employees of his company in Xiamen, Fujian Province, said they had lost contact with their boss since Monday.
The company was established in 2003 with a registered capital of 1.16 million yuan (nearly $170,000) and more than 10 employees. Cai owns 95 percent of the company's shares.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang reiterated on Tuesday that the looted sculptures were originally owned by China and China opposed any auction of these cultural relics and demanded their return. Qin said he learned the bidder was Chinese on Monday after the news conference.
Christie's has not made any official comment over the issue so far.
NTFC was established in 2002 under the administration of China Foundation for the Development of Social Culture registered under the name of the Ministry of Culture for the purpose of repatriating looted Chinese artifacts.