So the Chinese collector Cai Mingchao refused to pay the 28 million euro he bid for the two bronze heads at the Christie’s. Intentionally or not, this is an effective publicity stunt, forcing the story of disputed auctioning back to the news agenda. A point has been made again that no matter how legitimately Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé acquired and owned the sculptures, the fact remains that they are war plunders, looted from China’s imperial palace.
Incidently, the 8th Earl of Elgin, James Bruce, who ordered the destruction of Yuanmingyuan, the Old Summer Palace, where the bronze heads were looted from, is the son of the 7th Earl of Elgin, Thomas Bruce, who removed the marbles from Acropolis and shipped them to Britain. The Greek government, like Chinese government, is asking for the return of the national treasures.
A lot of cultural artifacts of China have been looted, stolen, smuggled out of China over the years. Most of Chinese won’t demand a blanket return of all the treasures. However, the arrogance of Pierre Bergé, who bizarrely linked the return of the sculptures with Tibet issue, and the insensitivity of the Christie’s, escalated the dispute. The two bronze heads, which may not worth the inflated 14 million euro price tag, are seen by many Chinese as a reminder of national humiliation. To put too much symbolism on to them may not be totally rational, but buying them back by the state, as suggested by the Times, doesn’t sound right. Some would justifiably feel being robbed twice.