Beijing, Dec 1 (efe-epa).- A horse’s head sculpted in bronze that belonged to the Old Summer Palace, considered the pinnacle of Chinese palatial architecture and destroyed by French and English troops in 1860, returned Tuesday to its original home after 160 years.
This is the first time a relic of this type has been “repatriated” to the Old Summer Palace from outside China, according to state agency Xinhua, which lists the piece as the enclosure’s “last lost treasure.”
The horse head was designed by Italian Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), a missionary who worked for more than half a century for the court of the Qing, the last imperial dynasty to rule the country.
The piece was looted by foreign forces until it was bought at auction in 2007 by Macanese billionaire Stanley Ho for HK $ 69 million ($ 8.9 million.)
China’s National Cultural Heritage Administration claimed the piece and in 2019 Ho donated it to the state.
The businessman, who died in May, said he was “honored to have played an important role” in “saving Chinese relics from abroad.”
In recent years, the administration has increased efforts to locate lost relics, and as of 2019 had recovered about 300 lots with some 140,000 pieces from abroad through police cooperation, lawsuits, negotiations and donations.
Built in the early 18th century, the Old Summer Palace, or Yuanmingyuan, was a complex of buildings and gardens that alternated traditional Chinese designs with European architecture of the time carried out by Castiglione.
The palace was brutally looted and burned by French and English soldiers in 1860, in the context of the Second Opium War, by order of the British viceroy in India, Lord Elgin, who justified that decision by the torture and execution of some members of a British delegation. They had come to negotiate with Chinese leaders.
In recent decades there have been calls for the palace to be rebuilt to recover imperial heritage and increase tourism, but authorities prefer to keep it in ruins so that it remains a symbol of the foreign invasions suffered by China in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Old Summer Palace should not be confused with the Summer Palace, located a few kilometers away, one of the most touristic places in the Chinese capital and part of UNESCO’s World Heritage list. EFE-EPA