Two ancient bronze animal head sculptures looted from the Summer Palace during the Second Opium War were returned to China in accordance with the offer businessman François-Henri Pinault made during his visit to the country with French president François Hollande in April. From The New York Times Arts Beat:
At a ceremony in Beijing on Friday, the family of one of France’s wealthiest businessmen officially returned to China two bronze animal heads that were among the treasures looted in the 19th century from the imperial Summer Palace near Beijing by invading British and French troops.
[…] “This donation is a token of our family’s appreciation for China as well as our passion for the preservation of art and cultural heritage,” Mr. Pinault said, according to a statement.
The two bronzes, a rat head and a rabbit head, were unveiled from beneath red silk covers by Ms. Liu and Mr. Pinault’s father, François Pinault, Reuters reported. [Source]
At the Associated Press, Christopher Bodeen explained that the return of the ancient artifacts is seen as a gesture of restitution for the humiliation China suffered at the hands of Western imperial powers more than a century and a half ago:
The recovery of the bronze heads of a rat and rabbit is a major in a victory for China’s campaign to erase a legacy of past bullying by foreign powers, but also a masterful stroke of corporate public relations for a firm seeking fat profits from newly wealthy Chinese consumers with a growing taste for luxury.
[…] The fact that they are being returned by a company representing one of the nations that carried out the violation heightens the gesture’s importance for Chinese who tend to equate nations with their business and cultural interests, said Joseph Cheng, China politics expert at the City University of Hong Kong.
“It shows that China is now in a position to win back these treasures,” Cheng said.
[…] Li Xiaojie, director of China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage, thanked the Pinault family for its “act of respect for and protection of China’s cultural heritage,” and said he hoped it would inspire others to return lost pieces of China’s cultural heritage. [Source]
Read more about the auction of the bronze animal heads via CDT.