Page last updated at 10:35 GMT, Thursday, 26 February 2009

China condemns Christie's auction

The bronze rat and the bronze rabbit
China says the bronzes were taken abroad illegally 150 years ago

China has condemned what it calls the illegal auction in Paris of two bronze artefacts taken from a Chinese palace 150 years ago.

The strong statement said China did not recognise the 31m euro (28m, $39m) sale of the bronze rat and rabbit.

It also ordered tighter checks on artefacts that Christie's auction house takes into or out of China.

The bronzes were sold as part of the estate of late French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

China says the animal heads were part of a collection of 12 looted from the Old Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860 when it was sacked and burnt by French and British armies during the Second Opium War.

This will have a serious impact on [Christie's] development in China
The State Administration of Cultural Heritage, China

The animals represent the Chinese zodiac, and adorned a fountain built for the Emperor Qianlong.

China has managed to track down five of the other statues, which are now displayed in a Beijing museum. It had earlier called on Christie's to stop the bronzes' sale.

New limits

"The State Administration of Cultural Heritage resolutely opposes and condemns all auctions of artefacts illegally taken abroad," the agency said in a statement posted on its website.

"Christie's must take responsibility for the consequences created by this auction."

The cultural heritage agency said it had "pressed for the withdrawal of these Summer Palace relics".

James Reynolds
Everyone we spoke to believed that the bronzes should be returned to China
James Reynolds

"But Christie's took its own course and insisted on auctioning the relics looted from the Summer Palace in breach of the spirit of international pacts and the consensus on the return of such artefacts to their original countries," it said.

The Chinese heritage administration said the auction would bring repercussions as it had "harmed the cultural rights and national feeling of the Chinese people".

"This will have a serious impact on its development in China," it said in the statement to the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party.

In a separate statement, it said new limits would be imposed on what Christie's could take in or out of China.

Christie's said it regretted Beijing's "reprisal measures".

"We continue to believe that sale by public auction offers the best opportunity for items to be repatriated as a result of worldwide exposure."

The auction house remained committed to China and was ready to discuss the situation with its cultural heritage agency, it said.

Last year Christie's global sales totalled $5.1 bn (2.8bn), its website said. Its main hub in Asia is in Hong Kong, where a booming market led to sales of $452.3m in 2008.

Online commentaries in China have blamed France, not just Christie's, at a time when ties between Paris and Beijing have already been strained by French President Nicolas Sarkozy's meeting late last year with the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama.

Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan has also joined the criticism, calling the artefacts' sale "shameful".

"They remain looted items, no matter whom they were sold to. Whoever took it out (of China) is himself a thief," AFP news agency quoted him as saying.

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Straits Times Jackie Chan: Return bronzes - 1 hr ago
San Francisco Chronicle China punishes Christie's for auction of relics - 2 hrs ago
CNN China fury over sculpture auction - 3 hrs ago
South China Morning Post Lawyers vow to keep up fight against Christie's - 10 hrs ago
The Detroit Free Press China to scrutinize Christie's after sale - 10 hrs ago

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