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March 2nd, 2009
Chinese Man Sabotages Christie's Auction

Jeff Seelbach

A Chinese man who claims to have been the anonymous highest bidder on two Qing Dynasty sculptures at a Paris auction now says that he will not pay the money. The Chinese government says that the bronze artifacts were stolen and should be repatriated, and it appears that Cai Mingchao, the supposed buyer, disrupted their sale in a crafty bit of auction sabotage.

Mingchao is affiliated with a government-supported organization that seeks to retrieve stolen Chinese artifacts, and he says that his anonymous and fake phone bid was a patriotic act. “I think any Chinese person would have stood up at that moment,” he said. “I was merely fulfilling my responsibilities.” The hijinx teaches a lesson that the French should be familiar with: beware of unknown phone callers.

The sculptures, of the heads of a rabbit and a rat, were part of the private collection of the late iconic fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé, and fetched 15.8 million euros ($20.3 million) each at the Christie’s auction. The pair were originally part of the Zodiac Fountain of the Emperor Quianlong’s Summer Palace outside Beijing. Dating from the 18th century, they disappeared around 1860, when British and French soldiers attacked and looted the palace. The fountain originally included twelve heads, seven of which have been found, and five of which have been returned to China.

The Chinese government tried to shut down the auction entirely, but a French court denied their claim.

Eminent cultural ambassador Jackie Chan rose to China’s defense, saying, “This behavior is shameful….It was looting yesterday. It is still looting today.” In a handy bit of cross-promotion, Chan also happens to be working on a film about the theft of cultural relics. If I were to pick someone to defend my national honor, Chan would be a good candidate.

In response to China’s criticism, Bergé retorted, “I’m absolutely ready to give the two heads to China. The only thing I ask is for China to give human rights, liberty to Tibet and to welcome the Dalai Lama.” Ouch. Kinda seems like apples and oranges to me, but at this point, who’s counting?

  • Royce Penstinger

    China’s behavior in this is shameful…Christie’s should be a bounty on the head of Mingchao for his fraudulent bid. In the mean time, just to teach China a lesson, the relics should be MELTED DOWN.

  • Bob

    so if America was invaded and the declaration of independence stolen, why not return alaska to Russia? Or let Texas be their own nation again?
    Or heck, America doesn’t deserve the Lincoln memorial because of the so called Patriot act, lets take the head off of that and blow it up.

  • ywshang

    Very well down. Christie’s got what they deserves right. The auction is totally a shameful action at the beginning. Despite that they knew so well the relics were looted in a war, they insisted putting them on an auction. Such a shameful behavior simply invited humiliation. It’s time for Christies to stop acting like a rogue and try to find some common sense of decency.

  • horsham

    Screw Berge, Christie, and the French court. To sell looted goods in open market is an act of bandits and barbarians. The issue for the Chinese are not the value of the goods (personally, I think those animals heads are semi-junk), but the symbolism resides with how they ended up in the French hands. To the Chinese, the French sale of those pieces is an brazen act of gloating about the crimes committed by their country against the Chinese nation.

    It’s not enough for the Chinese government to tight the custom regulations on Christie; it should put this rogue company on a targeted sanction list, banning it from conduct business on Chines soil. If the British and French feel insulted, let those bastards try launching the Third Opium War.

  • JG

    Royce, what jerk you are!
    Mingchao, Great Job!!!

  • Grand Thief

    Royce Penstinge,

    I will steal your TV from your house and then smash it to pieces to teach you a lesson.

  • charlie

    At this point, whether or not and how to preserve these two artifacts is not important anymore, since the artistic value of the pieces is irrelevant. through this ordeal, the entire world already know how shameful the French are. They are not only offsprings of a bunch of robber and rapists, they still possess these traits to this day. How can you imagine this kind of auction can happen in France?

  • Morley

    This is not shameful at all. It’s a wise and ingenious move on the Chinese part. Checkmated, ouch, Christe’s and Bergé.

  • Chalick

    I hope they just resell it. Didn’t the Chinese man violate any laws? Send the bastard to jail. China: change your own shady human rights record, then maybe you can act from moral indignation.

  • yuppinyen

    Policies aside, would we have been able to determine their worth without this exercise?

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