Thursday, February 26, 2009

Still Ranting

The sale of the two bronze animal heads from Yuanmingyuan is over and yet China is still raising a ruckus about them.

Early this morning Beijing time, the heads of the rat and rabbit were sold for nearly $35.9 million, not including commission.

They were sold to anonymous telephone bidders and now the giant band of 81 Chinese lawyers who originally tried to halt the sale of the bronze heads want to find out who the buyers were and harass them.

Liu Yang, head of the legal group tried to put a positive spin on their fruitless efforts: "But our effort was rewarded by the attention this case attracted. We have heard condemnation of the parties in this deal. We are glad to see the reactions of the government and public," he said.

Now the Chinese government wants to put tighter controls on auction houses like Christie's by imposing limits on what they can take in or out of China.

The State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) has ordered entry and exit administrative departments for cultural heritage at all levels to carefully check "heritage items" that Christie's seeks to import or export. The notice also extends to agents and employees of Christie's.

These entry and exit departments are separate from customs administration.

And the notice says if these cultural heritage employees find relics owned by Christie's that might have been looted or smuggled, they should report these finds immediately to the SACH.

"In recent years, Christie's has frequently sold cultural heritage items looted or smuggled from China, and all items involved were illegally taken out of the country," the notice said. It didn't specify the items or transactions.

Earlier today the SACH issued a statement condemning Christie's for putting the two animal heads up on the auction block, saying the auction "damaged Chinese citizens' cultural rights and feelings and will have serious effects on Christie's development in China."

Firstly, does the Chinese government not understand how auctions work?

Christie's and Sotheby's do not own the objects they sell; they merely act at middlemen who bring potential buyers and sellers together and try to get the highest prices for the sellers.

These auction houses wouldn't be caught with items in their possession.

Secondly, these items were looted, stolen, pillaged... over 150 years ago. They left China so long ago that it's almost impossible to get them back legally.

The best thing the Chinese government can do is try to get its "cultural relics" back through diplomatic means.

Why not have some class and in a non-confrontational way try to meet the owners of the other animal heads and come to come kind of gentlemanly agreement? We all know that money talks.

Thirdly, the totally disorganized response from the government and the band of lawyers is the result of a knee-jerk reaction that had no effect at all. This sale was announced months ago, and only at the last minute did these lawyers, on their own volition, make a pathetic attempt to stop the auction.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government then tried to jump on the bandwagon and hoped to fan the flames of nationalism, but no one changed their MSN message to "give us our heads back!" or "those heads belong to us!"

The only one to really join in the chorus is artist Jackie Chan, who has become the posterboy for China.

"They remain looted items, no matter whom they were sold to. Whoever took it out (of China) is himself a thief," he was quoted by AFP as saying.

That was over 150 years ago, Jackie. We probably will never know the real thief.

No comments: