The news of a controversy swirling around a 3 day auction at Christie’s in Paris of art works collected by late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Berge, first caught my eyes on China Daily and I started noticing it on other news media as well.
Among the artifacts were a couple of Chinese relics, Qing Dynasty bronze Rabbit head and Rat head, estimating to bring in $13Millions each. Further drawing my attention is the fact that these items were looted from Beijing’s old Summer Palace (Emperor Qianlong) by Anglo-French allied forces in 1860 close to the end of Second Opium War.
After Chinese government’s offer to retrieve these items since Oct 2008 snubbed by Pierre Berge and its request for French Christie House to halt the auctioning of these two items turned down, Association for the Protection of Chinese Art in Europe had appealed to a French court in Paris in another attempt to halt the auctioning of the two items but been rejected by the Paris court on Monday.
In response to a request from China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage, Christie’s issued a statement saying it “supports repatriation of cultural relics to their home country and aids in the process where possible by sourcing and bringing works of art to the auction platform to give buyers a chance to bid for them.” This strikes me as demeaning hypocrisy emitting stinky odor of dirty money. They could have at least tried to intermediate a work out between Chinese government and Pierre Berge but would they give up their big sale items? I think not. This speaks volume to explain Chinese’s long held cynical view of western merchants: “They see nothing but money”.
As for Pierre Berge, also a shrewd business man, he admitted the items were pillaged from China but said he would only return the items under conditions that “Chinese government would adopt human rights for Chinese People and give liberty to people in Tibet”. This is nothing but despicable logic of a bandit. How absurd! A plunder has no right to negotiate but to return the loot.
This controversy has given rise to the outcry of Chinese people all over the world. Nonetheless, the two national treasures rightfully belonging to the Chinese people are set to be auctioned off by Christies and Pierre Berge in Paris today. It is outrageous. As the auction gavel falls down, it would be the tragic humiliation of the unjust invasion 150 years ago bashing on Chinese hearts all over again. Unless a team of 81 Chinese lawyers’ continual effort to halt the sale succeeds somehow. If not, they will “start legal proceeding against the buyer”, according to China Daily.
German government returns artworks looted by Nazi government to their rightful owners. The French obviously has something to learn.