The Tale of the Auctioned Chinese Bronzes continued Monday with a bizarre twist. (The two sculptures – a rat's head and a rabbit's head looted from Beijing in 1860 by British and French troops – were sold last week by Christie’s in Paris amid strong protest from the Chinese government. Read the Monitor’s previous coverage here and here.)
Five days after the auction, the anonymous winning bidder revealed himself to be a Chinese national – and refused to pay the $36 million pledged.
Cai Mingchao called it a patriotic duty. "What I need to stress is that this money cannot be paid," he said at a press conference in Beijing. "At the time, I was thinking that any Chinese would do this if they could.... I only did what I was obliged to."
Mr. Cai actually collects antiques and owns an auction house himself. But if Christie’s were on the lookout for this kind of stunt, it might have red-flagged Cai's other work – as adviser to the National Treasures Fund, a group "backed by the Chinese Ministry of Culture that pools donations to retrieve relics abroad," according to Bloomberg. A spokesperson for China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage said the foundation had no affiliation with the government.
Christie's claims to have legal recourse to collect the money that was pledged, Bloomberg reports. Meanwhile, Pierre Bergé, the partner of the late designer Yves Saint Laurent, who owned the bronzes, said the relics will stay with him. "We will continue to live together in my home,” Mr. Bergé said.
Will there be a Part 3? Stay tuned.