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Chinese Bronzes Sold at Paris Auction for $40 Million


China is condemning Wednesday's auction of two ancient bronze sculptures dating back to the Qing dynasty of the 18th century.

The State Administration of Cultural Heritage says the auction harmed China's cultural rights, and violates international agreements that protect the world's cultural artifacts.

The fountainheads of a rabbit and rat sold for a total of nearly $40 million at Christie's auction house in Paris. They were bought by unidentified bidders relaying their instructions to an official with the auction house.

A cultural group devoted to protecting Chinese cultural relics (Association to Protect Chinese Art in Europe) unsuccessfully filed suit in a French court to halt the sale.

The administration has ordered tighter inspections on Chrstie's operations in China.

The sculptures are two of 12 zodiac animal heads from Beijing's Summer Palace that was designed by the Italian Jesuit missionary, Giuseppe Castiglione.

The sculptures were seized after French and British troops razed and looted the palace's buildings in 1860 at the end of the second Opium War. Only five have been returned to China.

The bronzes were part of a huge collection that belonged to the late French fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent, and his partner Pierre Berge. Berge says he plans to donate at least part of the money to medical research.

On Tuesday, China rejected Berge's offer to return the statues if Beijing agreed to improve human rights, give liberty to the Tibetan people and welcome the Dalai Lama. The foreign ministry called the offer "ridiculous."

A United Nations convention on the return of stolen cultural artifacts only covers theft within 50 years.


Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.

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