A Chinese man said today that he was the winning bidder for two bronze sculptures at a Paris auction last week, but he had no intention paying for the controversial treasures looted from Beijing. The two sculptures, heads of a rat and a rabbit, were part of the estate of Yves Saint Laurent and sold for 15 million euros each (Dh69.3m) to a telephone bidder during the Christie's auction of the late designer's art collection. But Cai Mingchao, an adviser to a foundation in China that seeks to retrieve looted treasures, said no money would change hands for the relics stolen from Beijing's Summer Palace, which was razed in 1860 by French and British forces.
Reading a brief statement, Mr Mingchao told a news conference that his bid was a patriotic act. "I think any Chinese person would have stood up at that moment. It was just that the opportunity came to me. I was merely fulfulling my responsibilities." A spokesman for the French Embassy in Beijing said he had not heard of today's news conference and could not comment. Wang Weiming, one of the heads of the foundation, said she was "not sure" if or when the bronzes would return to China.
"These national treasures are probably still in France," Ms Wang said. "We'll have to see how the situation develops." The foundation, formally called the China Fund for Recovering Cultural Artefacts Lost Overseas, says on its website (www.relicsrecovery.org) that it was set up in 2002 in Beijing by a group of academics and "prominent people". Before the auction, France was already the target of Chinese public ire because the president, Nicolas Sarkozy, had met the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled leader. The contention over the looted bronzes added to that anger.