As the YSL sale approaches the sabre-rattling over the two heads from the Summer Palace Zodiac clock increases. Even though there were reports earlier that the Chinese government had been offered these two relics, the posturing certainly seems like a negotiating tactic. Or that’s how David Barboza played it in the International Herald Tribune:
Liu Yang, a Beijing lawyer who is helping to organize the lawsuit threatened in France, said he had located a descendant of China’s imperial family to serve as plaintiff in the case.
“The Old Summer Palace, which was plundered and burned down by Anglo-French allied forces during the Second Opium War in 1860, is our nation’s unhealed scar, still bleeding and aching,” Liu said. “That Christie’s and Pierre Bergé would put them up for auction and refuse to return them to China deeply hurts our nation’s feelings.”
Liu also asserted that the sale would violate a 1995 UN convention governing the repatriation of stolen or illegally exported cultural relics.
But Patty Gerstenblith, a professor of law at DePaul University in Chicago who specializes in cultural-property issues, said that France never ratified the convention and that even if it had, the agreement does not apply retroactively to objects looted decades before.
“My view is this was looted, but it would be difficult to get that legally back,” she said by telephone on Monday. “But it’s got great historical significance and ought to be returned.”
Gerstenblith suggested that one solution might be for the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé Foundation to negotiate with China and offer the bronze heads at a reasonable price. “It would probably be in the best interest of everybody if they made a deal privately with China,” she said.
Over the last decade Chinese entrepreneurs and businessmen with close government ties have acquired a large number of historic items at auction and donated them to Chinese museums and institutions.
China Pressures Christie’s to Hand Over Sculptures (International Herald Tribune)