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A Great Work of Art Returns
A priceless calligraphy from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) is now back in the care of the Palace Museum after being bought by the State Administration of Cultural Relics (SACH) at an auction in Beijing on Friday.

The return of Yanshan Ming (Record of Yanshan) from Japan is the Chinese government's first purchase of a Chinese cultural relic that had been overseas following the establishment this year of a special fund for the purpose, said Fan Shiming, director of the China Cultural Heritage Information Consultation Center, on Saturday.

The goal is to get back as many national treasures as possible, and as quickly as possible, to the motherland. The effort is in line with the rapid development of the Chinese economy and the passage of the new Cultural Relics Law, Fan said at a ceremony held to mark the transfer of the calligraphy to the Palace Museum.

The calligraphy of Mi Fu (1051-1107) will be on display in the Ancient Painting Gallery of the Palace Museum until Sunday.

The 39-character piece went for 29.99 million yuan (US$3.6 million) at Friday's auction.

The handscroll, one of the few works by Mi that have survived, was taken overseas at the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and was part of the collection in a private Japanese museum.

Fan, who bought it for SACH, said the price is the highest that a single Chinese calligraphy or painting has ever fetched on the world market.

Early this year an ink painting of birds by Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty, which was owned by a Japanese collector, set the previous record when it was sold for 25.3 million yuan (US$3.05 million) at an auction. The buyer was anonymous.

In the past two years many overseas collectors have been selling cultural relics, including Chinese treasures, because of the regional economic regression, Fan said, adding that this has created an opportunity for many Chinese cultural relics which flowed abroad in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to be brought back to the motherland.

The number of relics expected to come home in this round of recovery should be the largest after that of the 1950s campaign to rescue cultural relics. During that effort, art works such as Boyuan Tie (Letter to Boyuan) and Han Xizai Yeyan Tu (Han Xizai's Night Revels) were bought from abroad and from private collections in China.

(China Daily December 9, 2002)

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