In February 2009, the auction house Christie’s auctioned off two bronze sculptures taken by foreign troops from Beijing’s Summer Palace during the Second Opium War in 1860. The fountainheads, a rabbit and a rat, were initially sold to bidder Cai Mingchao (蔡銘超), a man associated with a Chinese state fund whose mission is to locate and repatriate Chinese cultural artifacts. Cai later refused to pay the 28 million Euros he had bid for the two heads, citing moral grounds [Coverage from the Associated Press]. Understandably, many Chinese took this issue personally, a reminder of the ills and indignities China had suffered at the hands of invading foreign armies. Some Chinese commentators, however, cautioned against overly nationalistic emotions surrounding these treasures, and suggested the Summer Palace had been a symbol not of national pride but of imperial greed. In this cartoon, posted by the Kunming-based studio Yuan Jiao Man’s Space (圆觉漫时空) to back in 2009, the bodies of the Summer Palace bronzes attend the Christie’s auction to bid for their own heads, a bald assertion of the absurdity of suggesting that they do not rightfully belong to China.

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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