French judge Denies China’s Claim for Summer Palace Bronzes

A french judge on Monday denied China’s claims for these two bronze objects, looted from the Old Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860, to be auctioned at the Yve Saint Laurent auction tonight in Paris.  They had been transferred a number of times during the 20th century, and the alleged wrongdoing took place nearly 150 years ago.  If China wants the objects back they have only two options.

First, as Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent’s partner, offered earlier “The only thing I ask is for China to give human rights, liberty to Tibet and to welcome the Dalai Lama.”

Or second,  they could purchase the objects at the auction.  As Barbara Demick’s piece in the L.A. Times notes:

An entire museum in Beijing run by the Poly Corp., which is operated by a state-owned military enterprise, is filled with repatriated artworks, including several other bronze animal heads that along with the two held by Saint Laurent were part of the set of 12 representing the signs of the Chinese zodiac.

The museum bought the tiger, monkey and ox through auction houses in Hong Kong in 2000, while the pig’s head was recovered in New York by Hong Kong casino magnate Stanley Ho, who in turn donated it to the museum.

But the Chinese are increasingly resentful at the high prices they’ve had to fork out. Ho reportedly paid $9 million in a deal brokered by Sotheby’s to get the horse head back from Taiwan. Christie’s was reported to be asking $10 million each for the rabbit and rat in behind-the-scenes negotiations in the last few years with prospective Chinese buyers.

“It is really shameful. They are like kidnappers demanding ransom to give back your own child,” said Li Xingfeng, one of a group of 81 Chinese lawyers who filed the lawsuit last week in Paris trying to block the sale. They have vowed to pursue the case to recover the heads from whomever might buy them.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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