Posts Tagged ‘Christie's’

Just found THIS article published in February on popular Chinese popnews website ChinaSMACK about the Christie’s auction of two of the now pretty well known bronze zodiac animal heads that were looted from Beijing’s Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan) during the 1860s by the British and French armies.

The article is interesting for several reasons. First, it provides, very clearly, Chinese netizen reactions not only to the act of looting itself, but to the idea of buying back China’s patrimony, especially under such widely publicized conditions.

Reading the comments (they have been translated into English, so don’t worry), it seems very obvious that there are several sides to the debate. On the one hand, there are many young Chinese nationals who believe that no matter what, the heads should be bought back because not doing so would be a blow to Chinese nationalism; these same people are generally quite angry over what they see as deliberate insults to China on the part of France (in particular). On the other hand, some nationals don’t really care either way, and even seem to question the point of reclaiming what they call “copper faucets,” especially since the Chinese government is now wealthy enough that they could “make them in pure gold.” Still others take a more middle ground, and whilst supporting the Chinese government’s demand to buy the heads back, also admit that there are bigger “cultural relics” than these relatively young specimens that China should be focusing on.

Here are some examples of the comments to tantalize your tastebuds:

What is the use of spending so much money to get these back? Aren’t they just copper faucets? With 200 million, we can make them in pure gold. There are so many national treasures out there, why just focus on these two?

When did those things become China’s national treasures? Were it not for us buying a few of them a few years ago, who would care about this? Just look at how much the prices have grown over these past few years! They are just waiting for us to go waste our money! It would be better for us to care about those real national treasures that have been lost overseas!

Seeing China’s plundered cultural relics being auctioned is as if I was painfully seeing the shadow of the time period our ancestors were killed, robbed, and pillaged!!! It cannot be like this!!! Now the French want to again hurt the Chinese people a second time!!!
French people, how can you be this way!!!
This is the benefit that the French people chase after??? What benefit can the French people get from hurting the Chinese people’s genuine feelings!!!
The Chinese people cannot agree to this!!!
Resolutely oppose!!

Read the full article to get all the juicy debate details.


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In a way, collectors will be collectors…and archaeologists will be archaeologists. The link between these two groups of people is tenuous, abstract, inexplicable, and unescapable all at the same time. Why? Because we operate in seemingly unconnected spheres. One that is filled with fine works of art, black tie events, buckets of money, and status, and the otherwith dusty books, dusty artifacts, trowels, and long articles. But underneath it all, the collector and the archaeologist are only two points in an intimately and diabolically interwoven network along the channels of which artifacts (as they are known to some), or “fine works of art” (as they are known to others), constantly travel.

Sometimes, however, the world of the collector and the world of the archaeologist collide, mostly when it has to do with object provenance. A recent article about the sale of Chinese works of art by Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses in London had this to say: “the Chinese government intervention forbidding the export of newly discovered archaeological works has led collectors to favour antiquities from old collections held abroad.”

In a way, it has been the continuous effort on the part of archaeologists and other interested individuals that haslead to the passing of the import restrictions against unprovenanced Chinese antiquities, which has in turn forced collectors and dealers to look for ways ot make provenanced items more “hot.”

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that in many ways, collectors and archaeologists, although seemingly so distant from one another on the spectrum of interest in Chinese antiquities, can’t help but get in each other’s way from time to time. This is because, ultimately, we are seeking the same thing: a spectacular object. For the collector, it is the object’s aesthetic qualities that are the most appealing, while for the archaeologist, it is the knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the object’s creation that is alluring. What we all have to keep in mind, however, is that in either case, the things we seek are non-renewable resources. Nothing is creating more 3rd century lacquer boxes, or 2nd millennium B.C. ceramic jars. Be they “artifacts,” or “fine works of art,” they are not being replaced anytime soon, which, unfortunately, begs the question: in the battle of China’s cultural heritage protection, is either side really in the right?

(For the record, I believe archaeologists are MORE in the right. Wanna know why? COMMENT!)

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