Looted treasures on show

Updated: 2013-07-05 09:16

By Zhang Kun (China Daily)

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Looted treasures on show

A bronze monkey sculpture is among the four animal heads showcased at the Jiading Museum in Shanghai. Li Xinke / China Photo Press


The new Jiading Museum in Shanghai is showcasing four sculptures of Chinese zodiac animals stolen from Beijing's Old Summer Palace during the Second Opium War as part of their inaugural exhibition. Zhang Kun reports in Shanghai.

The new Jiading Museum marked its grand opening with a debut exhibition of four bronze sculptures of animal heads from Yuanmingyuan Garden.

The bronze animal heads, 14 stone Buddha statues from the 6th century and Chinese painting masterpieces are all part of a free public exhibition that runs until July 7.

The four bronze tiger, pig, monkey and ox sculptures were originally garden decorations in the Old Summer Palace, Yuanmingyuan, in the northwest of Beijing.

Yuanmingyuan was burned down by British and French troops during the Second Opium War in 1860, when soldiers looted the 12 bronze sculptures representing the dozen animals in the traditional Chinese zodiac, together with other treasured cultural relics.

Through the glass display cabinet, visitors can make out obvious dents on the animal heads that were made by heavy strikes from a gunstock in the 19th century, according to the museum.

The sculptures belong to Poly Art Museum in Beijing and have been lent to Jiading Museum for its inaugural exhibition.

Jiading Museum made special arrangements to ensure the security of the pieces during the exhibition.

Interest in the show has been strong, and some people have had difficulty reserving tickets, which, although free, must be booked over the phone.

"We considered issuing tickets onsite, but decided booking in advance would be necessary," Qi Chunming, director of the museum, says.

Looted treasures on show

The museum is also holding a writing contest about the animal heads on show.

Jiading district is in a northwestern suburb of Shanghai. The district built three new cultural facilities in the past three years. The Jiading Cultural Center and Jiading Library both opened with the new museum on June 26.

Besides the special exhibition, the new Jiading Museum will host a permanent exhibition on the history of Jiading, showcasing the life and social development of the area and exhibit fine pieces from the museum collection of paintings, ceramics and jade among other artifacts.

Jiading Museum's old venue is open as usual to the public. It displays exhibitions about China's imperial examination and bamboo sculptures.

Two more of the 12 animal heads from Yuanmingyuan - the rat and the rabbit - have recently been returned to China. They were donated by the Pinault family in France, according to the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

Poly Group acquired the four animal heads through auction and donation. In 2007, Stanley Ho, a Chinese business tycoon based in Hong Kong and Macao, donated a fifth piece - the head of the horse - to the State, after purchasing it before it was auctioned. The other five remain missing.