Ceremony welcomes relics' return to China
Updated: 2013-06-29 03:15
By Liu Xiangrui (China Daily)
Sculptures of a rabbit head and a rat head from Beijing's Yuanmingyuan Garden. Provided to China Daily
The sculptures were made for the zodiac fountain of Emperor Qianlong's Old Summer Palace, and looted among other precious relics when the palace was destroyed in 1860.
The sculptures made news when their auction by French auction house Christie's in February 2009 aroused controversy worldwide.
The winning bid was more than 31 million euros ($40.3 million), but the deal collapsed when Chinese buyer Cai Mingchao refused to pay.
The Pinault family — the majority shareholder of Kering, whose brands include Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Puma — bought the two sculptures after that.
Francois-Henri Pinault, CEO of the company, promised the donation on behalf of the family, which also owns auction house Christie's, in April.
Before the donation of the two pieces, five of the 12 bronze animal fountainheads from the Old Summer Palace had been returned to China through auctions purchases or donations by overseas Chinese collectors.
Li expressed his gratitude and respect on behalf of the cultural heritage department to the Pinault family for their contribution to China's endeavor to protect its heritage.
The returning of the two bronze heads has unusual meaning for both Chinese and French people, Li said.
"The kind move by the Pinault family is a sign of friendship for Chinese people and support for Chinese cultural heritage," Li said.