Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The most brilliant protest: the refusal to pay for two Qing Dynasty sculptures bought at Cristie's YSL auction

During last week's famous YSL Collection Auction held in Paris, two Qing Dynasty fountain sculpture heads that were taken from the Summer Palace in Beijing when it was burned down by invading French and British forces in 1860 during the Second Opium War were up for sale, despite protest and a lawsuit filed by the Chinese government.  The rat and rabbit heads (part of 12 Zodiac animal heads) were auctioned off for $40 million.   A week later, the secret high bidder revealed himself and openly stated that he had no intention of paying for them.  "The welching buyer, Cai Mingchao, is a Chinese collector and auctioneer. The general manager of Xiamen Harmony Art International Auction Company in Fujian Province in southeastern China, Cai had paid $15 million for a Buddha statue at a 2006 Sotheby's (nyse: BID - news - people ) auction in Hong Kong." 

This is probably the most brilliant protest I have heard during my life time, and in my opinion, far more effective than standing in streets with cardboard signs.  The audacious act by Cai Mingchao raised many questions for the art world, and some said that it probably will be copied in the future.  This event will make any auctions of Chinese art/antiques in the future far more complicated, and auction houses might even be scared of another incident such as this, which in my opinion, is what he tried to accomplish.  I am not certain if they will come to an agreement of any sort, but I am dying to know.  It does tell me, however, the Chinese government isn't to be toyed with.  If they can't do it one way, there will certainly be an alternative that stirs even more headaches.  National pride is what connects all Chinese, whether or not Cai had help from the governement is not my concern, but the fact that he did it in such witty and controversial way actually put a smile on my face.  if one Chinese can stir up such a strom, imagine what else they could do, if they really wanted to.    I don't think there is a right or wrong answer to this problem, but because they were stolen in the most humuliating way, the Chinese had to do something about it.  I am sure if any other country that had gone through the same thing and had the abilities to do something, they will. 

The fact that Cristie's blantantly ignored the Chinese government's voice made me think that they probably deserved the headaches.  This is not a negotiation, and the Chinese will not put up with it.  Talking about returning the sculptures in exchange for guarantee human rights and allow the Dalai Lama back into Tibet is just as ridiculous, even though I don't believe they were actually serious about it (actually, i don't know which one is worse...).  Who do they think they are!? Two sculpture heads are not enough to make such demands.  I am not defending the Chinese for what they are and what they do, but I think this is a much deeper issue than gaining the ownership of two sculptures heads (I mean really, they have got tons of these pricy things).  It is a political statement from China telling the world that they are not weak anymore, and discounting their ways of thinking will not do anyone any good.     

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