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Political blackmail in disguised form
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17:03, February 25, 2009

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By Li Hongmei People's Daily Online

The two valuable Chinese relics, bronze rabbit and rat head sculptures, are now under the hammer for auction in Paris as scheduled and, as a result of the appeal failure from a team of 81 Chinese lawyers, who has written to the auction giant Christie's in an effort to halt the sale of the two artifacts, as they were looted in war time from the old Chinese imperial palace.

The relics, once adorned the old Summer Palace, or Yuanmingyuan, were stolen when Western armies burnt the palace down during the Second Opium War in 1860. They are currently in the private possession of Pierre Berge, partner of late fashion king Saint Laurent, and were put up for auction by Pierre Berge. Although Christie's public relations officer confirmed promptly that all the articles for auction, including the two Yuanmingyuan bronze sculptures, had legal documents showing they are possessed by their keepers legally, the auction of the looted Chinese national treasures still enraged the Chinese people at home and abroad.

Many postings kept flooding to forums of almost all the portal websites, some finger pointing the auction is in violation of the 1995 Unidroit Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects signed by China and France, which stipulated that any cultural object looted or lost because of reasons of war should be returned without any limitation of time span; others refuting Christie's statements and saying Pierre Berge does not have legal ownership of the two sculptures. One netizen posted comments on the forum of sina.com, pointing the fact that the sculptures were stolen from China and illegally possessed by some people previously means that the ownership of their current keeper is not legal.

When the debates centered round the auction got white hot on line and media across China, Pierre Berge suddenly made a name not only as the owner of precious items but more as a left winger in politics, when he made absurd remarks at the press conference last Friday, saying he was ready to return two valuable Chinese relics on condition that China pledge to uphold human rights, and agree to free Tibet. He even confessed to the media, 'it's obviously blackmail, but I accept that.'

But the Chinese people will not accept it, as the bargain chip is far too outrageous and this blackmail adds insults to injuries. In the Qing Dynasty, when your army forced entry into China with big gun and opium, did you have a little sense of human rights? When you got back home with the stolen Chinese treasures, did you give it a passing thought that these relics adorning your study to show your insatiable pursuit for beauty were stained with innocent blood? What do you mean by human rights when you look back on the blood-shed history? And if you happen to have a close look at your collection, you will realize that your delicate hoard is built up by invasion, killing and plundering and, by robbing others of their basic human rights.

And how much do you know of Tibet, although you could always go into raptures at the mere mention of the so-called 'Tibetan issue.' Do you really believe the old Tibet, which means before 1949, was a Shangri-La? Do you think the hierarchical serfdom under the theocracy of the Dalai Lama represents the essence of 'human rights' and 'freedom?' Or have you even been to the exhibition with instruments of torture and punishment in the days of 'His Holiness' on display? 'Seeing is believing,' as the popular saying goes. If you have the knowledge of what was like in Tibet before 1949, you will surely understand why the Tibetan Autonomous Region decided on the basis of unanimous public approval that March.28 would be set as Serfs Emancipation Day, to mark the date on which about 1 million serfs in the region were freed 50 years ago.

On top of that, what raises doubt, or perhaps causes mirth, is Mr. Berge's blackmail, as confessed by the gentle man himself. Mr. Berge always boasts about his charity mind and takes much pride in his good taste. But blackmail in itself is such an ignoble conduct that even a self-respected ordinary person will never involve in. Moreover, neither 'human rights' nor 'freedom' can be used as bargain chip, as neither has anything to do with commodity and trade, except when Mr. Berge has some ulterior motives hidden behind the auction.

The article represents the author's view only. It does not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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