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Bronze Horse Head Returns to Mainland
    2007-09-20 21:13:25     China Daily

The bronze horse head, one of the 12 bronze sculptures of animal heads that formerly guarded a building in Yuanmingyuan Park, the old Imperial Summer Palace, is on show in the auction house Sotheby's on September 5th. The sculpture will return to its home in Beijing soon. [Photo: sina.com]

Macao gaming tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun has bought a rare bronze horse head plundered by British and French troops in the 19th century for HK$69.1 million ($8.84 million) and donated it to the motherland Thursday.

The sale set a record in the trade of Chinese sculptures from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Sotheby's Hong Kong said in a news release.

The deal stopped the national treasure looted from the Yuanmingyuan (the Old Summer Palace) being auctioned at Sotheby's autumn auction in October.

"We do not agree with cultural relics which were smuggled, stolen, or looted in wars being auctioned," Song Xinchao, director of museums department at the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, told a press conference on Thursday in Beijing.

He thanked Ho for his "patriotic act" and said the administration welcomes donations of cultural relics from abroad.

"I feel honored to have played a role in saving lost Chinese cultural relics from overseas," Ho, 85, said in a statement.

Ho was ranked 104th on Forbes' list of billionaires this year, with $7 billion in personal wealth.

The bronze statue is set to go on display in Sotheby's pre-auction exhibition at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center October 4-8, and at Hotel Lisboa in Macao starting October 9.

It has not been decided when and where the statue will be displayed on the mainland.

The statue is one of the 12 bronze heads of zodiac animals that graced a water-clock fountain in the Old Summer Palace, which was destroyed by the British and the French in 1860. So far, only the whereabouts of seven are known.

Besides the horse head, four statues - the tiger, monkey, ox and pig - have been bought in auctions and are on display at the Poly Art Museum in Beijing. The rat and rabbit are in a private European collection.

Song said Sotheby's Hong Kong was contacted "as soon as we heard the news" and the auction house agreed to help in the repatriation of the treasure.

"It contacted possible buyers, and Mr Ho showed interest as soon as he heard about the news."

With Sotheby's coordination, the owner's trustee and Ho finally sealed the deal at a price 22 times of what the owner reportedly paid for the sculpture at a Sotheby's London auction in 1989, or HK$3.14 million.

"China has got back more than 3,500 pieces of cultural relics from overseas since 1997," Song said.

"The government consistently maintains that historic relics abroad should be reclaimed by legal and diplomatic means, under the legal framework and principles set up by the international society, and through international cooperation," he added. 

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