Looted horse-head statue returns to China's Old Summer Palace

The bronze horse-head sculpture is one of 12 animal-head sculptures commissioned by Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty (1644 to 1911).
The bronze horse-head sculpture is one of 12 animal-head sculptures commissioned by Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty (1644 to 1911). PHOTO: XINHUA

BEIJING • A well-known treasure from China's Yuanmingyuan, or the Old Summer Palace, which went missing after it was looted 160 years ago, returned home on Tuesday.

The bronze horse-head sculpture is now back in its original location in the Old Summer Palace, the first time for a lost cultural relic from the former imperial resort.

Twelve animal-head sculptures once formed a zodiac water clock in Beijing's Yuanmingyuan, which was commissioned by Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty (1644 to 1911).

The original sculptures were looted from the royal garden by Anglo-French allied forces in 1860 during the Second Opium War (1856 to 1860).

The troops rampaged through the compound and set it on fire, with Yuanmingyuan falling into ruins after the ransacking.

The horse head, designed by Italian artist Giuseppe Castiglione and crafted by royal craftsmen, is an artistic blend of Eastern and Western cultures.

Late Macau billionaire Stanley Ho bought the bronze horse-head at an auction in 2007 and donated it to China's National Cultural Heritage Administration (NCHA) last year.

The bust is the seventh of the 12 animal statues from the Yuanmingyuan fountain to be returned to Beijing from overseas, with the other five still missing.

The NCHA and the relevant departments of the Beijing municipal government spent one year refurbishing the old Zhengjue Temple, the main place of worship for Qing dynasty emperors in the garden, into an exhibition venue, said Mr Liu Yuzhu, head of the NCHA.

An exhibition commemorating the return of the horse head is being held at the temple, displaying about 100 items, including relics and photographs.

"There is international consensus on returning lost cultural relics to their original homes, and China's efforts to bring relics home in recent years have enhanced that consensus," said Ms He Yan with the Beijing Urban Planning Society.

XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2020, with the headline 'Looted horse-head statue returns to China's Old Summer Palace'. Subscribe