The rabbit and rat bronze heads. (Photo/CFP)
Two bronze animal head sculptures looted from Beijing's Old Summer Palace or Yuan Ming Yuan by French troops in 1860 will be returned to China sooner than expected. The Pinault family, the current owner of the bronzes, announced on April 26 that they will return the relics back to China in the second half of this year, reports China's official Xinhua news agency.
The two bronze heads — of a rabbit and a rat — are among the twelve animal heads of the Chinese zodiac and many other relics seized in 1860, when British and French troops looted Beijing's Old Summer Palace during the Second Opium War. The looted heads were then taken out of the country and sold at international auctions. China currently has five of the zodiac heads on display in Beijing's National Museum, those of the tiger, horse, monkey, cow and pig and hopes to redeem the rest.
A mystery buyer from China made the winning bid of US$40 million for the sculptures when they previously went up for auction held by Christie's in Paris in 2009 but the bidder later refused to pay on the grounds that the heads were stolen from China. The artifacts were then purchased by Pinault's family, who run the French luxury goods retailer Kering, while they promised to donate the bronzes back to China in a move to help improve Sino-French relations.
The handover will reportedly occur as soon as June 28, with the bronzes to go on display at the National Museum, according to museum staff.