Those Bronze Heads: Truth and Fiction

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I had planned to write another follow up to Ling’s post belwo about the sale of the bronze heads, which seemed to me likely a case of a shrewd bidding up of prices on a couple of rather ugly bronze taps by a seller playing on Chinese nationalist feelings. Having happened to have had lunch yesterday with the author and journalist Jasper Becker, whose wonderful recent hsitory of the capital, Beijing: City of Heavenly Tranquility, goes into considerable detail about the fountain and the fate of the heads, I was going to shamelessly steal from the book by laying out the very differnt version of events its catalogues. My colleague Richard Spencer of the Daily Telegraph however has beaten me to the punch. He gives an detailed account of the history behind the propaganda on his blog (here). Bottom line: the fountain (which was designed and built by Italian and French Jesuits, incidentally) was dismantled and probably (possibly) put in storage some two decades before the arrival of the British and French forces. There is also  no evidence that the heads were looted by the invaders, who, while doing a great deal of damage, stealing much and generally behaving abrbarously, only began what turned out to be decades (more like a centruy of you count the Communist years) of pilfering and destruction by Chinese. As Jasper said to me, if you were looking for something to steal there was plenty of gold and silver stuff available for those who had first crack. Why would you bother picking up some rather ugly bronze sculptures anyway? 

It is interesting to note that depsite some cheerleading by the official media, the reaction among the normally dependebly virulently nationalists netizens has been low key. See some translated comments at chinasmack.