Mr. Cai Mingchao, You Are Wrong!

Even though I knew that the story of auctioning the looted Chinese animal bronze statues would not end when the hammer came down, I would not have expected such a twisted turn to follow.

Cai Mingchao, an adviser to the National Treasure Fund of China and the winning bidder of the two Chinese Bronzes from Yuan Ming Yuan, told a press conference in Beijing that he would not pay for the bids; and that he made the bogus offer to protest the sale of looted Chinese relics.

Christie’s has refused to make comments.


Cai Mingchao, winning bidder at Christies
Cai Mingchao, winning bidder at Christie’s

Speculations have spread around that Mr. Cai would face a huge financial loss because possibly a 10% of low estimate needs to be provided to register as a bidder for high-end lots. Or he may face a lawsuit and possibly would be punished to make up the monetary difference if the lot eventually goes to the second-highest bidder.

But Mr. Cai has been a respectful collector in the international market. In 2006 he spent HK$116.6 million on a Ming Dynasty Buddhist bronze at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong. Therefore his VIP status and reputation and past auction records may help him bypass certain registration rules. If so, the statues would probably return to Mr. Berge as unsold lots.

But Mr. Cai, you are wrong. Patriotism does not make the action legal. And you not only ruin your own reputation as a collector but also cast a dubious shadow on the face of every future Chinese collector in international markets. You successfully dwarfed the sale of two cultural relics, with a price that international auction houses and businessmen would cast stringent rules or even shun Chinese buyers because of their unexpected intention.

You became a hero nationally, but in the Western world, your behavior is irresponsible. Business transactions rely on established regulations and rules. Instead of seeking ways to improve the regulations and rules, you simply break it by saying We Chinese Act Based On Our Own Rules and Belief. That is as hot-headed as a red guard in Cultural Revolution.

Chinese may need the glory of a national hero like Mr. Cai. They feel the growing national pride by saying NO whenever they want to foreigners. But an established country wins respect by collaboration, not by refutation.

6 thoughts on “Mr. Cai Mingchao, You Are Wrong!

  1. you are wrong.

    there is no need to appear “responsible” before looters and thieves

    there is no need to appear “law-abiding” when the french court ruled the auction of stolen treatures legal.


    1. Neither Cristie’s nor Mr. Berge stole or looted.

      Who holds the right of cultural heritage? Han or Manchu? Or should Italian say they owned the statues because the bronze statues were made by Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione? If fact, almost no Chinese newspaper made the point that they were designed by an Italian.

      The responsibility is not just about stopping the transaction of the relics, but also should include show the tolerant and collaborative attitude that is equivalent to the ever-increasing national pride. True, British and French were looters and robbers more than 150 years ago; but now Mr. Cai would be condemned from a global point of view.


      1. Mr. Cai absolutely did the right thing. It is repugnant that France would dismiss the case. When International law creates legitimacy in stolen artifcats…this allows any culture with mere brute force to steal the cultural treasures of other nations i.e the British stealing Iran’s human rights charter, or France stealing Egypt’s relics, etc… It is a joke to undermine these countries under the pretense of human rights when it is well known that the greatest aggressors are the western imperial powers. Such a tragedy.


  2. I think he did the right thing. The Chinese government has gone through all justifiable means to claim the looted relics. Cai’s act came as a pleasant surprise when there is nothing else China can do to stop an obvioulsy wrong act by Christies. Christie’s didn’t loot it, but you don’t sell stuff your neighbor’s kid stole and ask you to sell on ebay. Of the two acts, Christie’s was of a more severe nature than Cai’s.

    Hui, the relics being designed by an Italian was mentioned in Chinese media. But that doesn’t prove anything. Using your logic, the statue of liberty, originally a gift from France, should not belong to the Americans either. Can a Chinese auction company sell that?


  3. Interesting perspectives here on Cai Ming Chao. If you are following this you will probably already have seen the aftermath ( ) in that basically his credibility as an international buyer is now shot. From what I have read though it seems he kind of stumbled into this without really thinking through the potential consequences.


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