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Former FM reprimands Christie's auction of stolen relics

Updated: 2009-03-04 14:28
BEIJING -- Former Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing on Wednesday reprimanded Christie's auction of two stolen Chinese relics, saying the auction will not bring any glory "to the homeland of the auctioneer."

"No matter which country one is from and what he does, he needs to consider not hurting his country's reputation," Li, spokesman for this year's annual session of China's top legislature, told a press conference.

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Citing an ancient Chinese saying -- "a gentleman should seek fortune in a decent way," Li said, "I don't think it's a decent way to auction looted cultural relics."

He said the auction hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, who have never done anything unfair to the auctioneer.

"Even if you might make a fortune from the auction, can you feel at ease and enjoy it? Won't you have qualms of conscience?" asked Li, now Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress, the country's top legislature.

China had tried repeatedly to dissuade Christie's from auctioning the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) bronze rabbit and rat heads sculptures, which were looted from Yuanmingyuan, the Old Summer Palace, by Anglo-French allied forces during the Second Opium War in 1860. But the efforts ended in futile.

The auction has aroused great public concern and anger among Chinese.

Li, who served as China's foreign minister from 2003 to 2007, said one of the reasons behind the strong reaction was because the auction was held in France, a country with glorious culture and home to great writer Victor Hugo, who wrote about the looting of Yuanmingyuan in his book.

The veteran diplomat also said that China hopes to have friendly relations with all countries in the world. "China cherishes its friendly relations with France," he said.

Last week, the two relics were auctioned for 14 million euros (US$17.92) each in Christie's sale of the collection of Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) and Pierre Berge in the Grand Palace of Paris.

After the sale, China's cultural heritage authorities ordered strict checks of all exports and imports by Christie's in China.

On Monday, a Chinese antiques collector named Cai Mingchao identified himself as the person behind the winning bids for the two relics. But he said at a press conference that he would not pay for that.

Cai, a collection advisor of the National Treasures Fund in China, said he believed that "any Chinese person would stand up at this time" and he was making an effort to fulfil his own responsibilities.

So far, five of the 12 bronze animal fountain heads in Yuanmingyuan have been returned, while the whereabouts of five others are unknown.

An editorial of the People's Daily has called on China's top political advisory body to made due contributions to help the country weather through difficulties.