China calls for return of art treasures from abroad

Tue Nov 17, 2009 1:36am EST
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By Lucy Hornby

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - China has ratcheted up pressure for imperial treasures to be repatriated, condemning overseas auctions of its relics and demanding they come home.

China is particularly eager to get back a series of bronze animal heads looted in 1860 by British and French soldiers when they burned down the Qing emperors' summer palace in Beijing.

China's drive to recover the heads has alarmed Western museums and auction houses, who are also sparring with Greece and other nations over the return of historic art treasures.

A March auction of two heads from the estate of fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent was disrupted after the winning Chinese bidder refused to pay for them, on patriotic grounds.

"These cultural relics should be returned to China," Liu Zhenmin, China's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, told a Monday meeting on the return of cultural property to countries of origin.

"We believe that such auctions run counter to the underlying spirit of relevant international treaties and UN resolutions, and are serious infringements of China's cultural rights and interests."

Chinese art, whether ancient or more contemporary, has fetched record prices at international auctions in recent years, and at times defying the global economic downturn.

But the official Xinhua news agency quoted Liu as saying that illicit appropriation of, and trafficking in, cultural property is a "sacrilege" to history and civilization.   Continued...