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China Calls for Return of Relics Auctioned in Paris

China has reiterated its opposition to the auction of two bronze imperial sculptures in Paris, last week. This comes one day after the anonymous winner of the bid revealed he was a Chinese national and announced he will not pay for the sculptures.

Christie's auction house has not announced whether it will take action against Xiamen-native Cai Mingchao, the anonymous bidder who pledged $40 million for two Qing dynasty bronze statues in last week's controversial auction. Cai told a news conference in Beijing, Monday, that his bid was a patriotic act in protest against the auction and that he would not pay for the bronzes.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang told reporters Tuesday the Chinese government remains opposed to the auction of the cultural relics.

Spokesman Qin says China also hopes the bronzes could be returned.

Mr. Cai owns an auction house in Xiamen and is a collection adviser to the National Treasures Fund, a non-governmental foundation seeking the return of looted Chinese art and antiques.

Cai registered as an individual when he bid on the statues, last Wednesday, and his status as a well-known collector may have helped him pass the advance screening process required before bidding.

Spokesman Qin says the Chinese government had no advance knowledge about Mr. Cai's plan to bid on the relics and he would not comment on an individual's "unofficial" actions.

Spokesman Qin says the essence of this issue is that the cultural relics belong to China and were looted by Western powers during war.

The bronze sculptures in question were among thousands of cultural objects taken by French and English troops during the second Opium War in 1860.

These particular two statues depict the heads of a rat and a rabbit and are part of a series of 12 zodiac fountainheads removed from a water clock in Beijing's Old Summer Palace. Five of the 12 statues were returned to China and the whereabouts of five others remain unknown.

The rat and rabbit statues auctioned last week were from the collection of the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner. For now, it appears they will return to Saint Laurent's Paris home.