Known to present-day Beijing expats as ruins and by many locals as a potent reminder of 18th century imperialism, Beijing's Old Summer Palace is in the news again: this time because some of the treasures that were looted 150 years ago by French soldiers have been reported stolen from the French museum where they've been housed since 1863.

Château de Fontainebleau reported the Chinese artifacts, along with the crown of the Siamese King offered to Napoleon III in 1861, were stolen in an early morning heist on Sunday, March 1.

A full list of the 15 artifacts that were stolen is not available, though Art Newspaper reports that among the lifted items were an 18th century Chinese cloisonné-enameled chimera and a rare Tibetan mandala, likely originally part of the old Summer Palace collection.

Château de Fontainebleau was decorated by Empress Eugenie, the wife of Emperor Napoleon III, with artifacts collected by her and by the sack of the Summer Palace by French and British soldiers in 1860, the Shanghai Daily reports.

If you are not Chinese, it's hard to express how raw this 150-year-old wound still is. This BBC piece from last month puts it in perspective, leading off by stating: "There is a deep, unhealed historical wound in the UK's relations with China a wound that most British people know nothing about, but which causes China great pain. It stems from the destruction in 1860 of the country's most beautiful palace."

Château de Fontainebleau's website here was accessible this morning, but has gone offline since then (even with VPN). It's not beyond the realm of possibility that the site has been overwhelmed by traffic, purposely shut down, or even hacked.

One of the last times that artifacts originating in the Old Summer Palace were in the news was when one of France's wealthiest businessmen agreed to return two bronze animal heads in 2013 that were looted by French and British troops in the 19th century, as reported by the New York Times. Several of the original bronze heads can now be seen in person at the Poly Art Museum at Dongsishitiao.

The Old Summer Palace, or Yuanmingyuan, was built in 1707 under the reign of the Kangxi Emperor and is located in Haidian. It was looted and destroyed almost completely during the closing days of the Second Opium War by British and French troops under the order of the British commander at the time.

Noted French novelist Victor Hugo noted at the time: "All the treasures of all our cathedrals put together could not equal this formidable and splendid museum of the Orient ... One of the two victors filled his pockets; when the other saw this he filled his coffers. And back they came to Europe, arm in arm, laughing away. Such is the story of the two bandits. We Europeans are the civilized ones, and for us the Chinese are the barbarians. This is what civilization has done to barbarism."

Photo: Wikipedia

 


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