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Do not let 'Old Summer Palace' become synonymous with wild speculations

(People's Daily Online)

08:10, November 05, 2012

(file photo)

A British auction house is about to hold the 2012 autumn auctions for works of art. On the list of objects to be auctioned, the imperial white jade archaistic disc enclosing four seal characters “Chang Yi Zi Sun" and an imperial pale green jade archaistic hanging vase of the Qianlong period especially attracted people's attention. According to the "birth certificates" attached to them, they were taken away from the "summer palace" in 1860 by officer of British Sixty-seventh Corps Arthur Jules Robertson. The Old Summer Palace had been called "summer palace" by Western countries.

In 1860, the British and French troops ransacked the Old Summer Palace and ruthlessly burned it down, leading to a large number of rare treasures flowing to foreign countries. In 2000, Christie's and Sotheby's, two auction shops in Hong Kong, announced to auction off the Ox Head, Rabbit Head and Tiger Head from the Old Summer Palace, making quite a stir in society.

Despite the boycotts, protests and angers of people by all means, the three works of art were still sold at a sky-high price, which made speculators see the huge brand value of the "Old Summer Palace." When the Mouse Head and Rabbit Head appeared on a special auction activity of "Collections by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé" in Paris in 2009, the high-profile publicity of organizer let the two works of art become the focus of global attention.

In addition to opposing some overseas auction houses and collectors who use the brand value of the "Old Summer Palace" to drive up prices of objects auctioned, we should also guard against utilization of "patriotism" by speculators. The disapproved voices of experts became the best proof of sources of cultural objects and some investors not only won reputation but also laid a foundation for next transaction of the cultural objects they bought overseas by flaunting the banner of helping recovering the national treasures.

Deputy Director General of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage Song Xinchao had said that the State Administration of Cultural Heritage has long taken a consistent attitude toward auctioning of cultural relics from the Old Summer Palace. "We are opposed to the auction of cultural relics from the Old Summer Palace and do not admit the illegal possession of these cultural relics. We will continue to trace and reclaim the cultural relics stolen and illegally exported in accordance with relevant international conventions and legal rules of China, including all necessary means."

All the cultural relics lost from the Old Summer Palace should be returned to China. However, the "convention on forbidding and preventing from illegal import and export of cultural property and illegal transfer of their ownerships" approved in 1970 is not suitable for the cultural relics stolen and illegally exported before the convention takes effect.

The "convention on stolen and illegally exported cultural relics" launched in 1995 stipulated explicitly that reclaiming the stolen and illegally exported cultural relics is valid in any case when it is put forward within 50 years since they were stolen. In other words, if a state does not raise a claim to trace and recover the cultural object within 50 years since it was stolen, the reclaiming of the cultural object will not be protected by the convention. What should China do facing the auction of cultural relics from the Old Summer Palace?

The Opinions on Further Improving the Examination and Verification of the Auction of Cultural Relics released this year clearly specifies that eight types of lost Chinese cultural relics, including stolen, smuggled, and looted ones, are banned from being auctioned in China. It is not hard to track down such cultural relics, particularly ones like the two relics from the Old Summer Palace, at auction houses. Similar relics are not rare in the auction market, and it is because the two relics are from the Old Summer Palace that they were sold at auction for unreasonably high prices. There will be no room for speculation on such relics as long as related government agencies take strict and timely measures to prevent them from being auctioned in China.

Source:Xinmin Evening News, author: Fang Xiang.

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