China

Looted statues returned to China in Pinault donation

  • 28 June 2013
  • From the section China

Two bronze animal heads, returned to China after more than 150 years, will soon be on display in their new home in Beijing's National Museum of China.

The sculptures were bought by the Pinault family, who own French luxury group Kering, and donated to the Chinese government.

The rabbit and rat heads were looted from Beijing's Old Summer Palace at the end of the Second Opium War in 1860.

China had tried to stop their sale when they came up for auction in 2009.

That auction ended in controversy when a Chinese man bid successfully for them, but did not pay, as a "patriotic act".

The statues had come up for sale following the death of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

Kering's brands, which include Saint Laurent as well as Gucci and Alexander McQueen, are popular in China's booming luxury market.

In a statement in April announcing their donation of the statues, the Pinault family said they had gone to "great efforts to retrieve these two significant treasures of China and strongly believe they belong in their rightful home".

At a ceremony at the National Museum on Friday attended by Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong, Francois Pinault was awarded a certificate of donation, according to the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

The bronze animal heads were among 12 which previously adorned a zodiac fountain in the destroyed Old Summer Palace.

The palace, known as Yuanming Yuan, was sacked by British and French forces.

The heads disappeared, but it remains unclear when, how and by whom they were taken out of China.

Of the 12, the ox, monkey, tiger, pig and horse heads have already been returned, the state-run China News Service reports.

The whereabouts of the other five animal heads, the dragon, dog, snake, sheep and chicken, are currently unknown, it adds.

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