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Christie's auction of Chinese relics to proceed
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Liu Yang, one of the lawyers working on the case, was unavailable to comment Thursday, but he told Xinhua Tuesday that they hoped Christie's could reconsider the sale of the relics, withdraw them from auction and persuade the owner to return them to China. Liu said the lawyers had also written to Berge, asking him not to auction the relics and return them to China.

He said his team would sue Berge if there was no "positive feedback from them (Pierre Berge and Christie's) within a reasonable period."

Christie's would be involved in the lawsuit as the third party. But he declined to say how long his team would wait for the "positive feedback".

Christie's public relations officer in China, Chen Yan, confirmed that the company's Beijing office had received the letter.

Li Xingfeng, another lawyer on the attorney team, told Xinhua Thursday that so far they have not received a clear reply from the auction house. Li said: "If Christie's proceeds with the auction, we will take further legal measures in France."

Legal team's obstacles 

Since they joined forces last month, the attorney team has experienced several twists and turns in their attempt to return the relics to China. Their endeavor was halted until they found the Aisin Gioro family clansman association, representing descendants of Qing Dynasty-era Manchu royalty. This clan was the only group that, under French law, was qualified to bring suit as the plaintiffs.

The team faced other trouble: finding someone to foot the bill. They eventually found a real estate company that asked not to be identified. It promised to donate 400,000 yuan (about 58,000 US dollars) to the plan.

"No matter what the result is, we have seen great concern shown by Chinese people, and the case raised their awareness of protecting national treasures by adopting legal measures," said Li.

China and France signed the 1995 Unidroit Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects, which stipulated that any cultural object looted or lost during war, regardless of how long ago, should be returned.

China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) said last month that Christie's auction of the relics was unacceptable and China would not try to buy them back.

Song Xinchao, director of the museum department with the SACH, said the best way to deal with the issue was to ignore it, because some business people might exploit the patriotic concerns of the Chinese people to raise bidding prices for their own monetary gain.

The American auction house Sotheby's tried to put a bronze horse head up for auction in 2007. But Macao billionaire Stanley Ho pre-empted the auction by purchasing the relic for 69.1 million Hong Kong dollars (about 9 million US dollars), and he donated it to the Chinese government.

So far, five of the 12 bronze animal heads have been returned to China. The whereabouts of five others are unknown.

(Xinhua News Agency February 12, 2009)

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