China Fails to Stop French Auction

5 other bronzes in ChinaThe designer Yves Saint Laurent died last year, and the collection of art he and partner Pierre Berge amassed over their lifetime is now up for sale at a Christie’s auction in Paris next week. Among the many treasures to be auctioned are two bronzes from the old Chinese Summer Palace in Beijing. They are from a collection of 12 zodiac pieces that used to adorn a fountain in the gardens of the palace and were commissioned for Emperor Qianlong. China is demanding them back, since they were looted from China in 1860 by French and British armies during the Opium War.

Stolen artworks from war is not a new topic, nor is the attempts of various governments trying to recover art that was looted. This particular collection is significant, since 5 pieces of the zodiac collection are already on display in Beijing (displayed above). Recovering these 2 pieces would rejoin the rabbit and the rat’s head to the collection.

I wrote in a previous posting about the possible reunification of another piece of Chinese art, so it should be no surprise that I’m for getting as many pieces back together as possible. The question though is how it should be done, and should owners who weren’t part of the original looting get restitution for their loss. Yves Saint Laurent acquired these pieces legally through a Paris art broker. So is his estate due anything? These are tougher questions to answer and one left for the French court, which is expected to rule on Monday, hours before the auction opens.

Update 2/23/09: The French court threw out the case, and ordered the APACE, the Chinese firm that brought the suit to pay damages of 1,000 euro each to Pierre Berge and to the auction house. In other news, Pierre Berge has said that China would have to massively improve their civil rights record, before he would even consider handing over the pieces to China.

Thanks for rating this! Now tell the world how you feel - .
How does this post make you feel?
  • Excited
  • Fascinated
  • Amused
  • Disgusted
  • Sad
  • Angry

About Tim

I'm a Chinese/Taiwanese-American, born in Taiwan, raised on Long Island, went to college in Philadelphia, tried Wall Street and then moved to the California Bay Area to work in high tech in 1990. I'm a recent dad and husband. Other adjectives that describe me include: son, brother, geek, DIYer, manager, teacher, tinkerer, amateur horologist, gay, and occasional couch potato. I write for about 5 different blogs including 8Asians. When not doing anything else, I like to challenge people's preconceived notions of who I should be.
This entry was posted in Current Events, The Arts and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to China Fails to Stop French Auction

  1. Kim says:

    these really are magnificent—its too bad the whole set isn’t together, and if memory serves, I think there is documentation that a couple are known to have be destroyed. But Tim, didn’t a wealthy businessman step forward—maybe 5 or 6 years ago (from HK perhaps?)—with one of the heads, and simply return it to PRC without compensation?

    Many of the art works confiscated from Jews during Hitler’s reign are being returned without compensation, which seems just to me. Or to put it into a perspective American’s can empathize with—in the war of 1812, the British looted the White House—if artifacts from that era were to resurface, should they be sold back to the US, returned without compensation, or kept by their current owner without further claim by the US? Maybe part of the argument goes to the cultural significance—a White House tea set isn’t the Liberty Bell.

  2. Tim says:

    Here’s the status of the 12 pieces as far as we know:

    1. Rat: was in Yves Saint Laurent’s collection. Will be auctioned off in Paris in February 2009.
    2. Ox: bought by the China Poly Group in 2000, now at the Poly Art Museum in Beijing.
    3. Tiger: bought by the China Poly Group in 2000, now at the Poly Art Museum in Beijing.
    4. Rabbit: was in Yves Saint Laurent’s collection. Will be auctioned off in Paris in February 2009.
    5. Dragon: unknown
    6. Snake: unknown
    7. Horse: was in a private collection in Taiwan. Purchased by Stanley Ho in 2007 and donated to China. Currently at the Poly Art Museum in Beijing.
    8. Sheep: unknown
    9. Monkey: bought by the China Poly Group in 2000, now at the Poly Art Museum in Beijing.
    10. Rooster: unknown
    11. Dog: in 2003, a Hong Kong auction house claimed to be selling the dog from the Summer Palace water clock, but consultants from the Poly Art Museum said the craftsmanship didn’t match the other four the Poly Group has recovered.
    12. Pig: purchased by Stanley Ho in 2003 (from a NY collector) and donated to China. Currently at the Poly Art Museum in Beijing.

    Many thanks to this article for the information about the whereabouts of the 12 pieces.

  3. Rob says:

    What should happen is this:

    China should be given back those pieces with an apology. The ones who bought them legally should demand payment from the French government.

    And the French “solution” to the problem is funny and never ceases to quell the reason why people still hate Europeans. You stole my car and then use it as leverage to try to get something from me?

    Go to hell.

  4. Daniel says:

    Based on what I’ve read, I have to say that the French response is a joke, meaning hard to take it serious.

    Considering the history of many art works of the past, it’s hard what would be an approrpiate response. Many things were stolen, not everything was returned, some were unconditional others had strings attached, etc.

    If nothing changes, I hope a buyer manages to get a hold of these pieces, put them in a place where the public can see it, and have a note or voice machine on the side telling the viewers how they were acquired long ago, from the maker’s workshop (if possible) to it’s current state.

  5. stentor says:

    Tibet has been stolen.

  6. Tim says:

    LATEST UPDATE 3/2/09: Pierre Berge, has now said he will keep the Chinese bronzes at home if the top bidder (a Chinese national) does not pay for the bronzes. In earlier news the top bidder, stated he would not pay as a symbolic gesture that the bronzes should be returned to China.

  7. Kim says:

    Obviously, there is no relationship between this art—–of great cultural significance to China—-and ‘human rights’ Pierre Berge’s rouse—-that the art will not be returned until some vague ‘human rights’ requirements are met, is simply a form of bald faced blackmail — obvious to all — except in France apparently.

    Once again, the hope is—and it has been successful pulled off many times in the Western liberal press—that liberal reporters will find, and report some link between the two issues—-theft of a cultural treasure, and some vague, un-named ‘human rights’ issue.

    And the people of China, once again, will have to weigh their options—protest this atrocity and risk being labeled Nationalists, and pawns of their leaders, or suck it up and take it—for now.

    But don’t be too surprised if there comes another backlash against French companies in China down the road, and PLEASE— when this happens—-don’t buy the liberal press version—lock, stock and barrel—-that the Chinese, isolated from the free flow of information—–simply don’t understand….Chinese,, the young particularly, know when they are being played for fools…

  8. number6 says:

    >Obviously, there is no relationship between this art—–of great cultural significance to China—-and ‘human rights’

    No doubt this pinhead thinks all the Tibetan treasures looted and smashed by Chinese government thugs from Mao until now is of no cultural significance to Tibetans. Actually if he’s Chinese, he’ll deny such ever happened.

  9. Confuse-us says:

    Tibet has been stolen.

    LOL…….wasn’t America stolen from someone?

  10. Kim says:

    Re: Numbers…

    “pinhead?” No, you are right, during the Cultural Revolution, much in China and Tibet was destroyed, as has recently been discussed here. And whenever its brought up in the liberal west, everyone is implored to commiserate with the Tibetan suffering during that time.

    But all of China suffered. Yes, my Father-in-Law as well—who was removed from his position as a college president, and forced into a countryside agricultural unit, as was his oldest daughter (age 15) who didn’t get out until she was 18.

    But what does any of this have to do with the rightful ownership of this particular Chinese cultural relic???

    Please explain that to me with all the intellectual faculties you can muster.

  11. number6 says:

    Why should anyone “commiserate” with you over the looting by western powers of “that time”, if you can’t do the same for the Tibetan’s of today over the actions of China then, and NOW? You think the whole moral issue can be reduced to one of legality?

    Why should anyone care about your “rightful ownership” when you don’t give a whit about their rights period?

    I doubt you have enough faculties in your snot filled head too see it.

  12. Confuse-us says:

    ^ That’s so self-righteous it’s almost divine.

    Some commentators point out (white, Western commentators mind you) that life in Tibet prior to the Chinese invasion was equally, if not more oppressive than life under the Chinese. According to some accounts, most Tibetans were kept in a state of indentured servitude to the theocratic minority of priests, slavery was a common practice, torture of prisoners was commonplace, and the general misery of life for the non-priestly underclass was like a Medieval nightmare.

    Yes, the Chinese communists are oppressive assholes, but self-righteously ignorant “moral” crusades of the type you (and Sharon Stone)seemingly stand for are all too often revealed to be a cynical disguise for xenophobia and prejudice.

    Up to 60% of the prison population in the U.S is black or some other minority. Throughout Europe and the U.S ethnic minorities are almost synonymous with poverty. If you really cared about ending oppression and you do in fact live in the west then I would suggest you start closer to whatever place you call home.

  13. number6 says:

    Who but pigheaded Chinese like yourself (name your white “commentators”) buy this contrived Chinese equivalent of “white man’s burden”, saving the Tibetans from themselves, considering that Tibetans are the ones even willing to shed blood over it?

    a Chinese commentator
    Tibet’s Unlikely Defender: A Chinese Journalist’s Change of Mind

  14. Ernie says:

    As Tibet has absolutely NOTHING to do with a China French Auction, I am closing this thread as it has spawned out of control. You can move this to the social network at if you wish.

  15. Pingback: » Looted Dragon May Be In Taiwan

  16. Pingback: » Another Looted Chinese Relic Sells At Auction

Comments are closed.