Saturday, June 29, 2013

Looted Statues Returned to China!

After 150 years, two bronze animal heads returned to China this past week.

The two animal heads (a rat and a rabbit) once adorned a "water clock" of sorts at the old Summer Palace in Beijing.  The heads, as part of the zodiac, originally had water spout from them every two hours to mark the time.

At the end of the Second Opium War (1856-60), British and French troops sacked and burned the Summer Palace and carried away the twelve statues.

No one is aware of the location of all twelve statues, but the rabbit and rat head belonged to the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent until his death.  Christies placed the heads up for auction in 2009 amidst huge protest from the Chinese government.  The auction failed because in an act of protest, a Chinese businessman did not honor his winning bid.

After the failed auction, the Pinault family (owners of Gucci) acquired the statues, and earlier this year they announced the donation to China stating that the statues "...belong in their rightful place " (BBC News).

In a ceremony this past Friday (June 28th), Francois Pinault awarded the certificate for donation to the National Museum of China.lf
Taken from Gulf Times

The looting of these statues represented China's shame by foreign governments.

Unlike other cases of looted antiquities, we know where they originated.  The unknown origin of antiquities makes returning objects difficult because there isn't one place to return them to.  This might sound confusing so let me provide an example.  The Maya spanned many modern boundaries of nation-states, and archaeologists can find artifacts within 5 countries.  Many artifacts have ended up on the antiquities market without any knowledge of which site they came from, as a result there is no way to determine, which country, if any, deserves the objects returned to it.

With the case of the bronze zodiac heads, everyone knew that they came from the Summer Palace n Beijing, and they were taken form a predecessor of the current Chinese government.

So what does the return of these statues represent?  Does the return of these statues somehow minimize the "shame' China experienced throughout the years?

I for one, am happy for the return of the bronze heads.  I do not prefer antiquities to be "hidden away" in s mogul's home, or sold to the highest bidder.  I do however, find this story different from the discussion of returning other looted objects, such as objects looted from archaeological sites and/or people looting sites in order to sell objects, and in some cases I do not agree with returning antiquity (repatriation).

In my thesis I actually argued against the repatriation of the "November Collection" to Guatemala (I might discuss this in another post or page).

As for now, I just wanted to share this news as a potential for what I define as a successful repatriation.