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China tightens control on Christie's after auction
Updated: 2009-02-26 15:18

BEIJING  -- In response to an auction by Christie's of two bronze sculptures taken from the Old Summer Palace in 1860, held despite China's protests, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) Thursday imposed limits on what the auction house can take in or out of China.

The bronze sculpture, a rabbit's head, was auctioned off on Wednesday night for 14 million euros (US$17.92 million) by anonymous telephone bidders in Christie's sale of the collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge in the Grand Palace of Paris. [CFP]

Entry and exit administrative departments for cultural heritage at all levels were ordered in a circular to carefully check "heritage items" that Christie's seeks to import or export. The notice also covers agents and employees of Christie's.

These entry-exit offices are separate from the customs administration.

Certificates of legal ownership must be provided for all items, the circular said. These documents must provide detailed information about the owners and the provenance (ownership history) of the items. Items with inadequate or missing documentation won't be allowed to enter or exit the country.

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Entry and exit departments should immediately report to the SACH and local police and customs offices if they find relics owned by Christie's that might have been looted or smuggled, said the circular.

The circular said: "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." It didn't specify the items or transactions.

China condemns sale, warns of "serious effects"

Earlier Thursday, the SACH issued a statement condemning Christie's auction of the sculptures and saying it would have "serious effects" on Christie's development in China."

It said in the statement that China did not acknowledge what it called the illegal possession of the two sculptures and would "continue to seek the return of the sculptures by all means in accord with related international conventions and Chinese laws."

According to the statement, SACH officials sought repeatedly to halt the sale through many means, including writing a letter to Christie's on Feb. 17 in a bid to stop the sale. However, it said, Christie's proceeded with the auction, violating international conventions and the "common understanding" that such artifacts should be returned to their country of origin.

It said the auction "damaged Chinese citizens' cultural rights and feelings and will have serious effects on Christie's development in China."

A photographer takes a picture of the Chinese bronze rat head and rabbit head sculptures displayed on the preview of the auction of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge's art collection at the Grand Palais in Paris, France, Feb. 21, 2009. [Xinhua]

The two controversial relics, which are more than 200 years old, were auctioned Wednesday for 14 million euros (US$17.92 million) each to anonymous telephone bidders in Christie's sale of the collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge in the Grand Palace of Paris.

Christie's has refused to identify the bidders.

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