A 3,000-year-old bronze vessel believed to have been looted from Beijing by British troops in 1860 will soon go under the hammer in the UK.
A plundered Chinese relic is up for auction
The vessel, known as the ‘tiger ying,’ dates back to the Western Zhou Dynasty (1027-771BC).
With tiger decorations on its lid and spout, the ying vessel would have been used during ceremonies paying respect to ancestors, according to the London-based Antiques Trade Gazette.
The piece was recently discovered in Kent, a county east of London, by a British art dealer, the Gazette said.
It is scheduled to be auctioned at The Canterbury Auction Galleries on April 10 with a estimated selling price of $170,000 to $280,000.
The vessel and other Chinese relics were found together with an archive of letters and photographs from Royal Marine Captain Harry Lewis Evans (1831-1887).
Evans fought in the Second Opium War of 1856 to 1860, in which Anglo-French troops infamously plundered the summer residence of the Qing emperors, burning it to the ground.
In a letter to his mother dated October 1860, Evans described how he plundered the Summer Palace at the end of the war:
“The French got lots of valuable loot in the way of watches, clocks, fur coats, silks etc. The General sent out for all the carts he could find, brought in as much as they could carry, and all the things were sold by auction for prize money for the force. I expect to get about five and forty pounds for my share.
“I succeeded in getting several bronzes and enamel vases as well as some very fine porcelain cups and saucers of the Emperor’s imperial pattern but they are so dreadfully brittle that I quite despair ever being able to get them home in their present condition.”
The Chinese Communist Party has long described the Opium Wars of the 1840s and 1850s, both of which China lost, as part of the country’s “history of shame.”
It is unclear if the vessel up for auction actually came from the looting, but news of the upcoming sake has prompted a wave of nationalistic responses on Chinese social media.
“The Westerners are savage people,” says one of the most “liked” comments on Weibo, China's version of Twitter. “Do not forget our national humiliation.”
On Wednesday, China’s State Administration on Cultural Heritage said in an online statement that it was looking into the case.
The government agency says it condemns the sales of stolen relics, and urges auction houses to respect the feelings of Chinese people.
In the past, Chinese buyers seeking to repatriate looted treasures have pushed auction prices to record highs.
The state-owned Poly Art Museum in 2000 paid about $4 million for three of 12 bronze animal figureheads – a ox, tiger and monkey – looted from the Summer Palace by French and British troops.
And in 2007, Macau gambling tycoon Stanley Ho bought the horse head in the set for $8.9 million and donated it to China.