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How much are those bronze heads really worth?

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Oriental Morning Post
February 27, 2009

An auction of two bronze sculptures looted from the Yuanmingyuan drew furious articles in many of today's newspapers calling for state reprisal against Christie's, the Paris auction house. But Shanghai's Oriental Morning Post kept its cool. The newspaper today ran an front page headline questioning the value of the rabbit and rat heads, which drew winning bids of 14 million euros apiece.

Luo Zhewen, director of the architecture department at the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and honorary chairman of the Cultural Artifact Association, was quoted in the article as saying that whoever bought the bronzes at such a price, he/she must be an idiot (冤大头).

I have been studying China's old palace architecture for over 70 years. I think that two out of so many parts of the palace's enormous structure, the zodiac animal heads from the Old Summer Palace don't have much value in themselves. There is nothing remarkable about their cost or craftsmanship. They were just water faucets, and very coarse compared with other artifacts from the Old Summer Palace kept at Peking University and other places. These days, they can be easily manufactured at small factories in Beijing or Guangzhou. The artistic value is just not very high.

Reflecting on the situation a few years ago when China companies and businesspeople from Macao bid on other heads, Luo said, "We were fooled at that time," but the Chinese people won't be fooled again, because "now we all know that their only value is as criminal evidence, not as art." Christie's "was making money by trading in criminal evidence."

So in Luo's eyes, what is the real value of the two heads? "Less than one million RMB. More than that, and the buyer should figure that he's been cheated."

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There are currently 7 Comments for How much are those bronze heads really worth?.

Comments on How much are those bronze heads really worth?

I remember when the first 3 went at auction in Hong Kong, Stanley Ho's purchase a few years later and now this. Then, as now, I've always thought the same: There is nothing elegant, winsome, refined, playful and/or attractive about these these bronzes...they're just freakishly ugly. Frankly, Mr. Berger should have kept them; if you've seen photos of that overstuffed Paris apartment, they're a much better fit there.

There is no such thing as "objective worth" of a commodity. Everything depends on demand and supply. If there is a high demand for these heads, then they will be pricey. That's it. But of course I'll be glad if the market demand for the heads goes down.

sounds like sour grapes to me.

though it's no secret that a large part of the sculptures' value derives from the historical controversies surrounding their removal from the Yuanmingyuan and continued sale on the international art market.

The value of these heads, as with any other commodity, is what someone is willing to pay for them, and that price has been accurately established by the auction process.

Prior to 2000 sales of this heds took place in obscurity and for much lower prices. But since then the Chinese government has chosen to give them much publicity by issuing demands and threats every time a head has come up for sale, and used proxies to pay whatever was necessary to ensure their repatriation, thus driving up the prices.

In short, the government is a victim of its own highly mendacious account of historical events and the hullabaloo it has itself created around them. Luo's comments are no different from earlier equally dimwitted claims that the auctions 'unreasonably' drove up prices.

China apparently failed to acquire the heads at the Paris auction, and Luo's remarks are nothing more than sour grapes, and part of the massive humbug surrounding the whole business.

It is a sour grapes indeed, yes the government is not SMART enough to prevent this.

Damn, this is an unfair world, finally you want to do something right, but there is no way out. And then you screw the things up...

And Mr. Berger why you need this much money?? You ate fifteen meals a day??? You also have 小三to buy LV bags for?

The meaning of wealth to someone like Berge or Bill Gates is just a NUMBER, and investment or consumption is just like doing a MATH QUIZ.

So if Berge thinks it's worth 15 million, it's worth that much, if the Chinese think it's worth 1 yuan, then it is.

It's all about perspective.

It means 1 yuan for me, if i really have to buy it.And I hope Mr Berge spend his money wisely.

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