Wed, March 04, 2009
Lifestyle > Culture > China-YSL relics row

China says Christie's auction of looted relics a lesson to world

2009-03-02 07:48:28 GMT2009-03-02 15:48:28 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

A photographer takes a picture of the Chinese bronze rat head and rabbit head sculptures displayed on the preview of the auction of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge's art collection at the Grand Palais in Paris, France, Feb. 21, 2009. Chinese lawyers have filed a motion to a French court seeking an injunction to stop auction house Christie's putting two bronze relics looted from China under the hammer, lawyers said Friday.

BEIJING, March 2 (Xinhua) -- China said here Monday that Christie's auction of the two looted Chinese relics last week was a lesson to the whole world, including the French people.

China had tried to dissuade Christie's from auctioning the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) bronze rabbit and rat heads sculptures, which were looted from Yuanmingyuan, the Old Summer Palace, by Anglo-French allied forces during the Second Opium War in 1860.

After China's repeated efforts ended in futile, the Association for the Protection of Chinese Art in Europe filed a motion at the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Paris, seeking an injunction to stop the auction. But the motion was rejected by the court on Feb.23.

The rejection had caused strong reaction in China and people started to question the value of the French culture, Zhao Qizheng, spokesman of the second session of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

"We have always admired the French culture. What happened this time? Does French culture get sick? What kind of value is behind this?" Zhao quoted online comments as saying.

But Zhao also said he believed that the value of French culture is not carried by a handful of people, but by the whole French nation.

He went on quoting several French writers including Victor Hugo, whose works truthfully recorded the history.

"In the eyes of history, one of the two outlaws will be called France, the other will be called England. I hope there will come a day when France, liberated and cleaned up, will send back this booty to a plundered China," Zhao quoted Hugo as saying.

He also quoted Bernard Brizay, author of "1860: the Looting of the Old Summer Palace", as saying that for the French, the looting of Yuanmingyuan would be the same as if the Prussians in 1870 had razed Versailles down to the ground, looted the Louvre (museum) and set fire to the national library, as Yuanmingyuan was all of those at once.

Zhao said former French President Jacques Chirac read Brizay's book and expressed his appreciation to the author, who as a French, clearly recorded that part of history.

The two relics were auctioned last week for 14 million euros (17.92 million U.S. dollars) each to anonymous telephone bidders in Christie's sale of the collection of Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) and Pierre Berge in the Grand Palace of Paris.

After the sale, China's cultural heritage authorities ordered strict checks of all exports and imports by Christie's in China.

On Monday, a Chinese antique collector named Cai Mingchao identified himself as the person behind the winning bids for the two relics. But he said at a press conference that he will not pay for the bid.

Cai, a collection advisor of the National Treasures Fund in China, said he believed that "any Chinese person would stand up at this time" and he was making an effort to fulfil his own responsibilities.

So far, five of the 12 bronze animal fountain heads in Yuanmingyuan have been returned, while the whereabouts of five others are unknown.

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