China wants Summer Palace relics returned, 150 years on

19th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

China has renewed a call for the return of relics looted from the Old Summer Palace in Beijing 150 years ago -- an act seen as a cause of national humiliation at the hands of Western armies.

The Yuanmingyuan, a summer resort garden for the emperors of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), was pillaged by a joint British and French military expedition during the second Opium War on October 18-19, 1860.

Cultural officials have urged private collectors in China to forgo profits from the antiquities trade and return the looted relics, the China Daily reported Tuesday.

The Yuanmingyuan park authority has also called on museums to return such items, and for a boycott on auctions featuring relics, the Global Times added.

A petition has been started in support of the effort, and martial arts film star Jackie Chan will act as a celebrity spokesman for the cause, it said.

A statue of French literary giant Victor Hugo was also erected on the Yuanmingyuan grounds in commemoration of his strident opposition to the looting and burning undertaken by the joint military force.

"At least 1.5 million relics from the Yuanmingyuan have either been looted or otherwise lost over the years," the China Daily quoted Chen Mingjie, head of the Yuanmingyuan park administration, as saying.

Xinhua news agency, citing the UN cultural body UNESCO, said some 1.64 million Chinese relics are housed in more than 200 museums in 47 countries, some of which are believed to have been looted from the Yuanmingyuan.

In recent years, cultural relic experts from China have sought to categorise and bring back looted Chinese antiquities, but their efforts have been waylaid by legal and historical obstacles, the China Daily said.

In February 2009, two bronze fountainheads looted from the palace that belonged to late French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge were auctioned at Christie's for about 20 million dollars each.

The sale enraged Beijing, which accused the house of regularly selling smuggled Chinese relics. The mystery Chinese bidder later said he would not pay and the items were returned to Berge.

The approximately 100 years that followed the sacking of the Yuanmingyuan represented some of China's darkest days, the English-language Global Times, the sister paper of the Communist mouthpiece People's Daily, said in an editorial.

But "the fall of China has been reversed... what happened 150 years ago to the Yuanmingyuan will not be repeated in China with its strong military."

© 2010 AFP

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