Norwegian art museum to return seven columns from Old Summer Palace to Beijing

Norwegian art gallery agrees to repatriate relics after US$1.6m donation from Chinese tycoon

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 9:28pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 February, 2014, 4:33pm

A museum in Norway will later this year return to China seven marble columns that were looted by foreign troops from the Old Summer Palace in Beijing, according to the museum and a mainland company said to have helped broker the deal.

The columns, currently in the KODE Art Museums of Bergen, were bequeathed by a former Norwegian cavalry officer, Johan Wilhelm Normann Munthe, as part of a collection of 2,500 Chinese artefacts in the early 1900s, The New York Times reported.

The institution decided to return the columns after it received a US$1.6 million donation from Huang Nubo, a real estate developer and philanthropist, to refurbish its China exhibition space.

The museum's director, Karin Hindsbo, yesterday confirmed the return of the columns.

A spokeswoman of Huang's Beijing Zhongkun Investment Group told the South China Morning Post that the museum had signed an agreement "to hand over the relics free of charge as part of a cultural exchange programme". However, she said the group would not disclose further details of the deal until the handover was completed .

Once returned, the pillars will be displayed at Peking University, which is located next to the Old Summer Palace.

The palace was plundered by Western forces during the second opium war in 1860 and most of the relics remain scattered around the world in museums or private collections.

Relations between China and Norway have been frozen since the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee gave the 2010 Peace Prize to the imprisoned dissident, Liu Xiaobo.