BEIJING (Reuters) - China Thursday demanded the immediate return of two bronze sculptures taken during the Opium Wars in the 19th century and now up for auction by the estate of late French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.
The sculptures, of a rabbit and a rat head, are due to be auctioned in Paris later this month, but China wants them back.
“Everyone knows that the related objects were plundered by the joint Anglo-French forces during the Second Opium War and are precious artefacts which have been overseas for many years,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a news briefing.
The official Xinhua news agency said the two head sculptures were taken from Beijing’s Imperial Summer Palace, burnt down by invading French and British forces in 1860. “China has incontrovertible ownership of those objects and they should be immediately returned,” Jiang added.
Auctioning them would “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people” and be contrary to international treaties, she said.
“We hope related parties give careful consideration to the matter,” Jiang said.
Xinhua said China and France signed a 1995 convention on stolen or illegally exported cultural objects, “which stipulated that any cultural object looted or lost because of reasons of war should be returned without any limitation of time span.”
But Xinhua also quoted an email from auction house Christie’s which said the auction would go ahead.
“The YSL collection holds firm legal title to the heads and so we respectfully believe the auction will proceed,” the reported quoted the email as saying.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie
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