Thursday, March 5, 2009
Historical relics & heritage buildings
When Christie announced its plan to auction two 18 century bronze sculptures, part of the late YSL's collection in Paris; the Chinese government strongly opposed the auction.
The two 18 century bronze sculptures, are the fountain head of rabbit and rat. The said sculptures were stolen from the Old Summer Palace, when French and British Allied Forces invaded China , attacked Beijing during the 2nd Opium War in 1860. China said the relics are part of China's cultural heritage, it was national treasures of Chinese people, and was wrongly stolen during the war, and it should be returned rightfully to its owner/China. The legal issue is who is the rightful owner? From the historical point of view, China is the rightful owner of the historical relics; from the legal point of view of the seller , is the seller obtain the sculptures legally? if yes, he was the legal owner now as , and Christie was only his agent. It was reported that Christie clearly confirmed the legal ownership.
Countless of China's national treasures & historical relics have been lost and found in oversea. Most of it was stolen, either stolen during the war or by person using the excuses of research, but illegally move out the treasures. Is the act of moving national treasures without the consent of the owner, a valid and legal transfer under international law? But how about morally, the historical owner is China, and the relics was taken criminally/wrongly/illegally, can it validly transfer to a legal owner? or is the transfer void under contract law of England or France ?
In another aspect, we look at the other angle. There are many much more value and priceless historical relics destroyed by the young Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. The Chinese destroyed more historical relics than the invaders that stolen the national treasures. The stolen historical relics were properly & professionally take care in the foreign museum and under personal collection. If the stolen historical relics were in China during the cultural revolution, the treasures were have destroyed by the mindless Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. Sometime it is a blessing that the historical relics are in oversea, at least we can still see it now.
Another factor is that the sudden out pour of nationalism and patriotism, is it short term out of national humiliation; or is it time China has to re-look at their national policy and legal system in along term , to preserve the current national treasures and historical relics. Why should the nation use the valuable asset of monetary resources to just buy back the historical relics(merely an art sculptures of a emperor's fountain) , when the country is facing more critical global financial crisis, and poverty in the rural China? Moreover there were more valuable historical relics still in China facing the urgent need of protection and conservation, which require much more financial resources. These are the questions to be ponder.
There is another report on the auction of Mahatma Gandhi's personal belongings in New York. The Indian residents are opposing the auction, as Mahatma Gandhi is the father of India, a national hero of India, and its belongings should not be sold, and should remain in India. Gandhi, a man who shunned material possessions, the national heritage of India, the auction of his personal belongings is considered an insult to the people of India.
From the two events, we can see the strong emotional appeal on their national heritage on the people of two emerging market. The self confidence created by their economic growth has increase the awareness of their right?
Looking at Penang, which is now the UNESCO world heritage site, & we have so many old historical colonial buildings ; foreigners especially Singaporean who understand the value of the assets has bought it for investment. But more are left unoccupied, some destroyed by fire; what have we done to preserve the buildings? our national heritage.
The old city was deprived of living history when people left the area due to the abolishment of Rent Control Act. The old shop houses can be sold to the clan association as clan house, there are many clan association or cultural, non-profit organisation who are not having their office. The whole old city can be occupied by them and re plan for revitalise and re-activate the city. They can planned social and cultural activities in the old city which is unique and attractive for the tourism. It is time Penang state government do something to the heritage site before foreigner take over the heritage.
Penang state govenment, please act early....