In spite of strong opposition and condemnation from the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH), a bronze vessel from the Western Zhou Dynasty, looted from the Old Summer Palace in Beijing, was sold for 410,000 pounds ($582,000) at the Canterbury Auction Galleries in the UK on April 11. The 3,000-year-old piece, known as the Tiger Ying, is a bronze water container with tiger-shaped decorations and carved inscriptions.
The SACH, China's national cultural relics watchdog, contacted the auction house beforehand, insisting that it withdraw the artifact from the auction. However, the auction house refused, citing protection under UK law.
The auction house also made public a letter written by Royal Marines Captain Harry Lewis Evans where he described how he took the vessel from the Old Summer Palace in 1860 when it was sacked and destroyed by British and French troops at the end of the Second Opium War. The ransacking shows Western invaders' reckless destruction of the history of human civilization.
It is the moral obligation of the international community to respect their own and other countries' cultural heritage and to promote the return of illicitly taken artifacts to their home countries. According to statistics from the China Cultural Relics Academy, over 10 million Chinese cultural artifacts have been taken overseas through wars or illegal trade. The Chinese Government has successfully recovered some lost treasures using legal and diplomatic means under the framework of international conventions.
(This is an edited excerpt of an article published in Beijing Youth Daily on April 13)