The Qing Emperor tried to ban the use of opium; he started with his own family, but failed. The Empire issued the following decree in 1810:
Most of these historical artifacts are now displayed in western museums. Victor Hugo in his letter "Expédition de Chine,” described the looting as, "'two robbers breaking into a museum, devastating, looting and burning, leaving laughing hand-in-hand with their bags full of treasures; one of the robbers is called France and the other Britain." Through his letter, Hugo hoped that one day France would feel guilty and return what it had plundered from China.
People still live off these looted artifacts, and are unlikely to return them as Victor Hugo had wished. At today's Lord Elgin family home, he showed a magnificent pair of stork sculptures in bronze, originally given by the Japanese emperor to his Chinese counterpart, and then brought back by the 8th Earl of Elgin from Beijing after his China campaign. Does he thinks art should be returned to China? "These things happen," he says of the 1860 events. "It's important to go ahead, rather than look back all the time."
I never understood why the Chinese and others spent millions trying to buy back those lost artifacts. Putting high value on those artifacts encourages only more destruction, stealing, and robbery; buying those artifacts just encourages people to rob again. Those artifacts were wholesome and “alive” in their original habitat with people. They were born, struggled, and grew old there with the people as part of a natural process. They were priceless. Then, they were murdered, dismantled into parts, and sold to whoever offered the highest price. Museums can become places of the dead, without any living culture in them, instead as storage of evidence of crimes of the past. If you truly want to learn about another culture, go the real place, live with the real people as part of the natural process.
In the news recently, a Frenchman who owns two bronze animal head sculptures from China's Yuanmingyuan (Old Summer Palace) will return the sculptures to China. The two heads were each auctioned for 14 million euros (17.92 million U.S. dollars) in 2009, causing concern internationally and protests in China.
The Frenchman, Francois-Henri Pinault, CEO of the PPR Foundation, said the transfer of the sculptures, of a rabbit head and rat head respectively, will be completed within the second half of 2013. So far, 7 animal heads have been returned, dragon might be in Taiwan, but the whereabouts of the four others are still unknown (the snake, the sheep, the rooster, and the dog).
Two Edicts from the Qianlong Emperor on the Occasion of Lord Macartney's Mission to China, September 1973 [PDF]
The palace of shame that makes China angry By Chris Bowlby
The Stories of Concessions Part 1
The Stories of Concessions Part 2
The Stories of Concessions Part 3
The Stories of Concessions Part 5
The Stories of Concessions Part 6
The Stories of Concessions Part 7
The Stories of Concessions Part 8
The Stories of Concessions Part 9