Auctioneers Christie’s have sparked a furious row with virtually the entire population of China after auctioning two sculptures for £14million each. The bronze sculptures, a rat and a rabbit were part of a set of a dozen fountainheads that were looted from Beijing’s Summer Palace during the second Opium War in 1860. They were sold on several times and eventually bought by fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.
Since they were plundered the heads have become a symbol of China’s suppression by the British Empire and have been subject to a lengthy legal battle. Despite all efforts the heads went up for auction.
China has spent millions recovering plundered artefacts and has even created an entire museum dedicated to repatriated art, including the monkey, tiger, ox, horse and pig heads from the same fountain. Several of the heads, which represent the symbols of the Chinese years, were bought back by gambling tycoon Stanley Ho, including the horses head for which he paid £6.5 million to a collector in Taiwan.
Chinese officials are said to be furious about the recent sale and have reported widespread public outcry. The State Administration of Cultural Heritage said. 'In recent years, Christie's has frequently sold cultural heritage items looted or smuggled from China, and all items involved were illegally taken out of the country.' He has vowed to crack down on Christie’s who, he claims, have repeatedly sold looted art. He said this most recent sale has 'harmed the cultural rights and hurt the feelings of China's people and will seriously impact their development in China.
“The State Administration of Cultural Heritage resolutely opposes and condemns all auctions of artefacts illegally taken abroad. Christie's must take responsibility for the consequences created by this auction… we will employ all necessary channels to recover all relics stolen and illegally exported throughout history.'
International kung fu superstar Jackie Chan also made his views public when he made this statement. 'This behaviour is shameful… They remain looted items, no matter whom they were sold to. Whoever took it out (of China) is himself a thief. It was looting yesterday. It is still looting today.' He also announced he is in pre-production on a movie about the theft of cultural relics.
If I was an auctioneer at Christie’s I wouldn’t be worried so much about a big screen expose as a visit from Mr Chan in person. I’m sure that would quickly put pay to the sale of further similar lots.