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(Global Times) An extremely rare Chinese bronze vessel that was plundered from the Old Summer Palace, or Yuanmingyuan, by a British officer in 1860 during the Second Opium War (1856-60) has been scheduled for sale at the Canterbury Auction Galleries in Kent, a southeast town in the UK on April 11.|
Screenshot of the Tiger Ying from the Canterbury Auction Galleries website
The bronze, known as the Tiger Ying, is an ancient wine vessel dating back to the Western Zhou Dynasty (1027-771 BC). According to the auction house, the name Tiger comes from its unique tiger decorations on its lid and spout. With only nine similar vessels known to exist, this treasure has an estimated value of 120,000 to 200,000 pounds ($170,000-284,000).
Spoils of war
The vessel was recently rediscovered by Alastair Gibson, a British art dealer, along with three other bronzes from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) as well as a photo and a letter that connect the bronzes to the sack of Yuanmingyuan by British and French forces in 1860. In the letter dated October 17, 1860, Harry Lewis Evans (1831-83), a Royal Marine Captain during the Second Opium War, explains to his mother how he took the Tiger Ying vessel from Yuanmingyuan.
"I succeeded in getting several bronzes and enamel vases as well as some very fine porcelain cups and saucers of the Emperor's imperial pattern but they are so dreadfully brittle that I quite despair ever being able to get them home in their present condition," Evans wrote.
Talking to media, Gibson stated that he never imagined that he would come across such valuable relics when a friend asked him to look at his small private collection. The dealer emphasized that the Tiger Ying was an unparalleled valuable piece since it depicts a tiger, considered to be the king of beasts in Chinese culture.
The vessel has undergone thermo-luminescence tests that show it is between 2,200 and 3,500 years old.
"Although it is said to be looted from Yuanmingyuan, we still have to confirm this," an expert on bronzes who asked to be anonymous in Beijing, told the Global Times.
"Scientific tests can only determine the age of this treasure. Based only on the pictures that we've seen online, it is difficult to say if it actually came from Yuanmingyuan," expert said, emphasizing that "if it is really was looted from Yuanmingyuan, according to the current international convention it should be returned to China."