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Since the XIX century the Europeans stole from China millions of art objects. Now they steal from museums in Europe — and, it seems, return to China
Material posted: Publication date: 19-08-2018
In the nineteenth century, the Europeans looted the Imperial Palace in Beijing. The Chinese believe it is one of the most humiliating events in their history.

The government of China since 1840 the country exported more than 10 million items of art and Antiques; most of them were stolen during the so-called "century of humiliation" — the period from 1840 to 1949, when China was repeatedly invaded by foreign armies.

The most valuable objects of art were taken after the looting of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing, which served as the residence of the emperors. In 1860, the Palace was seized by the British and French army which invaded Beijing during the Second opium war. The Europeans carried from the Palace all the valuables, and then burned it. Most stolen from the Old Summer Palace of the works of art were sent to Europe; they ended up in private collections or went to the monarchs as trophies.

The Chinese did not restore the Old Summer Palace. It has remained in ruins as a symbol of national humiliation. No less humiliating in China is considered a demonstration of art objects from the Palace in European museums. "This in itself looks like a theft. They just mindlessly brag about [these things] before," said GQ researcher Liu Yang, who compiled a complete catalogue stolen from the Old Summer Palace of values. "I know that we will not refund all of my life. But we will not surrender, no matter what kind of effort would have to make," says Liu Yang.

In recent years there has been a series of thefts from European museums. Thieves carry only items of Chinese art

In 2010 a gang of thieves set fire to several cars in Stockholm as a distraction and robbed the Chinese pavilion in the Museum of the Royal Palace of Drottningholm. Soon the robbery occurred in several other European museums, including museums of Durham and Cambridge universities in the UK, the Palace of Fontainebleau in France and the KODE Museum in Norway; the latter was robbed twice with a break of three years, stealing from him a total of 78 exhibits.

In all cases, the thieves only stole art and Antiques from China, most often in the past taken out of the European armies. Most of the stolen exhibits was never found, despite the fact that they are well known and documented that would have complicated their sale on the black market.

Who was the customer of the robberies, is still unknown. Norwegian police got a clue, seeing that one of the stolen at the first burglary KODE exhibits on display at the Shanghai airport. But the Norwegian authorities refused to take action, fearing to spoil relations with China. "If we say that the subject in China, they say "prove"," — told GQ Kenneth Didriksen, head of the Norwegian police force to investigate crimes in the sphere of art.

After the second robbery KODE Chinese billionaire Huang Nubo donated to the Museum $ 1.6 million — in his words, to update the security system. Soon KODE transferred on permanent display at Peking University's seven marble columns from the Old Summer Palace. Nubo denies connection between donation and return values; however, he said the Chinese newspaper China Daily that the demonstration columns in Europe "was a disgrace [for the country]".

Among Chinese businessmen has become fashionable to return stolen European artwork. They are willing to buy them for millions of dollars

Huang Nubo is not the only Chinese businessman who is willing to spend millions of dollars in return exported from the country of art. In 2000, China accounted for 1% of the global art market, while in 2014 this proportion rose to 27% when the interest of Chinese collectors cause including the most prominent objects of national art.

In 2010, the sale at auction in London Chinese vases starting price 800 thousand dollars in half an hour reached 69.5 million — despite the unclear origin of the lot. The buyer of the vase presumably was made by a Chinese businessman, whose name was not called. "The return of repatriated art has become a fashion among the elite," said China Daily Zhao Xue, head of the auction house conglomerate China Poly Group.

State-controlled China Poly Group, whose assets are estimated at 139 billion dollars, is one of the largest players in the Chinese art market. In particular, she tries to return home all the 12 bronze animal heads that decorated the fountain in the Old Summer Palace and taken by Europeans. These heads are among the most valuable of the objects stolen from the Palace. At the moment of 12 goals China returned seven (four of them belong to China Poly Group), the whereabouts of the others remains unknown.

"We can use many ways to return the head, the auction is just one of them," said GQ Jiang Inchon, the head of the company Poly Culture, administering collection of art and Antiques China Poly Group. "We can't ignore the fact that the values were taken illegally, even if they are carefully preserved. If you stole my baby and taking good care of him, it expiate your crime," he said.

Told Olga Korelina


Tags: China , art

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