Looted Treasure Returned to Beijing's Old Summer Palace

By That's Beijing, December 3, 2020

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After its looting 160 years ago, an iconic horse-head bronze statue was returned on Tuesday, December 1 to the Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan) in Beijing’s Haidian district.  

The horse-head is one of 12 statues that depict Chinese zodiac animals. It was designed by Italian artist Giuseppe Castiglione and made by royal craftsmen.

The statue was donated by the late Hong Kong-Macao tycoon Stanley Ho who passed away earlier this year. It was in the possession of the National Cultural Heritage Administration (NCHA) before being recently handed over to the Old Summer Palace. 

The Old Summer Palace served as an imperial garden between 1709 and 1860. It gained a reputation as the ‘garden of gardens’ thanks to its plethora of palaces, gardens and treasures. 

In 1860, British and French colonial forces destroyed many of the garden’s structures and looted its treasures. This included the horse-head bronze statue. Many other treasures remain on display in museums around the world. According to China Daily, “It is the first time that a lost important cultural relic from Yuanmingyuan has been returned to and housed at its original location after being repatriated from overseas.”

The Old Summer Palace is etched into the collective memory of many in China. For many Chinese citizens, Yuanmingyuan is symbolic of colonialism and China’s so-called ‘national humiliation.’

In October of this year, the Old Summer Palace marked the 160th anniversary of the looting. On October 18, visitors could enter the palace free of charge.

Many who took advantage of the free entry were eager to point out the importance of the anniversary and not to forget China’s ‘national shame.’ Ms. Liu, an art teacher, took her students to the Old Summer Palace for a painting activity. She told Global Times that she hoped her students could appreciate the historical significance of the ruins. Many of China’s netizens were equally keen to point out the anniversary’s importance. 

Over RMB10 million (USD1.52 million) has been spent on improving facilities to safely store the treasure. The statue will be displayed permanently in the Zhengjue Temple of the Old Summer Palace. 

[Cover image via China Daily]

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