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China puts Christie's on close watch list

CHINA said yesterday it will tighten control over the activities of London-based auction house Christie's after it brokered the sale of a pair of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) bronzes that were looted from the Old Summer Palace in Beijing.

Christie's ignored China's call to return the bronzes and sold them at a Paris auction late Wednesday as part of a huge collection owned by the late fashion king Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Berge.

China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage, the country's cultural relics watchdog, told its branches around the country to enhance inspection on the entry and exit of artwork and antiques associated with the auction house.

Harder look

From now on, each item Christie's or its agencies plan to ship in or out of China needs to be reported to the administration for final approval.

Any relics Christie's declares for entry or exit suspected of being stolen or smuggled should be reported to Customs officials or police immediately, the administration said.

It issued a statement condemning the auction and said it would have "serious effects" on Christie's development in China.

The two bronzes, the heads of a rabbit and a rat, were among 12 severed from a zodiac water clock in Beijing's Old Summer Palace in 1860.

They were sold on Wednesday by Christie's for 14 million euros (US$17.9 million) each to an unidentified telephone bidder, fetching well above the estimated 8 million to 10 million euros each.

The buyer was later identified by Bloomberg News as Thomas Seydoux, a senior expert at Christie's in charge of the auction of modern art and impressionist works.

The relics administration said it will continue to seek the return of the sculptures through international conventions.

It told the People's Daily that the Paris auction "flew in the face of the spirit of international treaties and an international consensus on returning relics to their country of origin."

It said the auction would bring "repercussions," as it had "harmed the cultural rights and national feeling of the Chinese people."

In a statement e-mailed to Xinhua new agency yesterday, Christie's asserted that it had abided by all international and French laws regarding the Paris auction on Wednesday.


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