China urges boycott of UK auction of artifact seized by British soldier in 1860

BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Tuesday condemned the British auction of a rare bronze water vessel seized by a British soldier from Beijing’s ransacked Imperial Gardens in the 19th Century, calling for a boycott.

The auction is due to take place on Wednesday, organized by Kent-based Canterbury Auction Galleries.

The elaborately adorned water vessel and cover, referred to as a Tiger Ying because of the tiger decorations, was made between 1100 and 771 B.C. during the Western Zhou Dynasty with an estimated value of up to 160,000 pounds ($226,000), the auction house said on its website.

It said the vessel was taken by a British soldier during the “capture” of what is now called the Old Summer Palace in 1860, towards the end of the Second Opium War.

The Imperial Gardens were an architectural wonder of Western-style palaces and gardens that were destroyed and looted by British and French troops in 1860.

The ruins of the palace lie where they fell today, a popular tourist site covering an area of 3.5 square km (865 acres) and a reminder of historical Western hegemony and British colonial rule.

China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage denounced the auction.

It “strongly opposes and condemns Canterbury Auction Galleries’ insistence on auctioning the suspected illegally discharged cultural artifact despite solemn protest from China and conducting commercial hype in the name of cultural relics of wartime looting,” it said on Tuesday.

It said it did not support Chinese individuals or institutions taking part in the auction and called for other possible buyers to boycott the sale.

A spokesman for the auction house told Reuters the item in question would be auctioned on Wednesday but declined to comment beyond information published on its website.

Reporting by Se Young Lee and Fang Cheng; Editing by Nick Macfie