Chinese bidder “won’t pay” for looted bronzes
Mon Mar 2, 2009
By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING (Reuters) – A Chinese man said on Monday that he was the winning bidder for two bronze sculptures at a Paris auction last week, but he had no intention paying for the controversial treasures looted from Beijing.
The two sculptures, heads of a rat and a rabbit, were part of the estate of Yves Saint Laurent and sold for 15 million euros each ($20 million) to a telephone bidder during the Christie’s auction of the late designer’s art collection.
But Cai Mingchao, an adviser to a foundation in China that seeks to retrieve looted treasures, said no money would change hands for the relics stolen from Beijing’s Summer Palace, which was razed in 1860 by French and British forces.
Reading a brief statement, Cai told a news conference that his bid was a patriotic act.
“I think any Chinese person would have stood up at that moment. It was just that the opportunity came to me. I was merely fulfilling my responsibilities.”
Ken Yeh, the deputy chairman for Christie’s in Asia, declined comment when reached by Reuters, referring inquiries to the press office, though multiple calls went unanswered.
A spokesman for the French Embassy in Beijing said he had not heard of Monday’s news conference and could not comment.
Wang Weiming, one of the heads of the foundation, said she was “not sure” if or when the bronzes would return to China.
“These national treasures are probably still in France,” Wang told Reuters. “We’ll have to see how the situation develops.”
Officials declined to give any more details, saying simply that when they had something to announce, they would announce it.
The foundation, formally called the China Fund for Recovering Cultural Artifacts Lost Overseas, says on its website (www.relicsrecovery.org) that it was set up in 2002 in Beijing by a group of academics and “prominent people.”
Before the auction, France was already the target of Chinese public ire because President Nicolas Sarkozy had met the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled Buddhist leader. The contention over the looted bronzes added to that anger.
Some online commentators had said China should not seek to buy the sculptures, as that would add to the insult.
(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley and Ian Ransom, and James Pomfret in Hong Kong; Editing by Nick Macfie and Valerie Lee)