February 26, 2009 / 4:21 AM / 10 years ago

China denounces French auction of looted bronzes

BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Thursday condemned Christie’s auction of two Qing dynasty bronzes looted when Beijing’s Summer Palace was razed by invading French and British forces in 1860, saying the sale would hurt the auction house.

The State Administration of Cultural Heritage told the website of the People’s Daily (www.people.com.cn) that the Paris auction “flew in the face of the spirit of the relevant international treaties and an international consensus on returning relics to their country of origin.”

The sculptures of a rat and a rabbit head are part of an art collection from the estate of French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

They sold for a total of more than 31 million euros ($39.5 million), well above the estimate of 8-10 million euros each. Christie’s and Saint Laurent’s partner, Pierre Berge, have said the sale was lawful.

The Chinese heritage administration said the auction would bring repercussions as it had “harmed the cultural rights and national feeling of the Chinese people.”

“This will have a serious impact on its development in China,” it said in the statement to the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party.

Christie’s must bear all responsibility for the repercussions of the auction, said the Chinese statement. But it did not specify how the company’s activities in China may be affected.

A group of Chinese students and ethnic Chinese in Paris protested against the sale outside the auction venue. But there were no signs of protests in Beijing. The government is generally wary of student demonstrators, even patriotic ones.

But online, Chinese people blamed France, not just Christie’s. Ties between Paris and Beijing have already been strained by French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s meeting late last year with the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama.

They were also strained by French protests disrupting the Paris leg of the Beijing Olympic torch relay last year, sparked in turn by China’s crackdown on rioting in Tibet.

“France is deliberately making trouble for China,” said one comment on the People’s Daily’s website. “We should have some response against French products.”

Another said: “Let’s just leave the relics overseas, just to remind us Chinese of the historical humiliation and the evil of the Western pillagers.”

$1=.7855 Euro Reporting by Chris Buckley and Liu Zhen; Editing by Nick Macfie

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