‘Looted’ Chinese antiques pulled from UK auction

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 November, 2012, 7:12pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 November, 2012, 7:12pm

Two Chinese antiques have been withdrawn from auction in Britain, the auctioneer said, after the proposed sale sparked fury in China amid claims they were looted from Beijing in the 19th century.

Bonhams issued an apology as it confirmed the two jade carvings would not be sold after the owner withdrew them from a planned auction on Thursday to “avoid any possible offence”.

The planned sale had sparked a furious reaction from Tan Ping, an official at China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage, who labelled it “against the spirit of international conventions”.

“Bonhams is very sorry to read reports in the Chinese press that offence has been caused in China by the proposed sale of two jade carvings,” Bonhams said in a statement received by AFP on Monday.

“There was never in any way an intention to cause offence, and Bonhams regrets that this interpretation has been published.”

Ping previously told state media: “Cultural relics should be returned to their country of origin. We’ll keep a close eye on the matter.”

In its online description of the Qing dynasty jade disc and jade hanging vase, Bonhams said they were “retrieved from the abandoned Summer Palace in Beijing” in 1860.

The Old Summer Palace, or Yuanmingyuan, was pillaged by British and French military forces in 1860, when Beijing says 1.5 million relics were looted, though it is likely some antiques were sold off by local dealers.

The event is seen in China as a national humiliation at the hands of Western armies. Sales of antiques looted from the palace are widely resented in China.

The two antiques have a combined estimated value between 100,000 and 180,000 British pounds (US$160,000-290,000), the auctioneer said.