Beijing celebrates the return of a bronze horse's head, stolen from the ancient Summer Palace
by Wang Zhicheng

The media celebrate the "homecoming after 160 years". The work was stolen in 1860, after the destruction of the Yuanmingyuan by the Anglo-French troops. For the Chinese Communist Party, the theft of sculptures is a symbol of the "century of humiliation". The bronze horse head was donated to China by tycoon Stanley Ho. Two Jesuits, Castiglione and Benoist, were among the architects and decorators of the Yuanmingyuan.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - A ceremony and an exhibition today at the Summer Palace are part of celebrations organized by the Beijing authorities to mark the return of a bronze horse's head which had been part of the decorations of the ancient Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan), before it was destroyed by Anglo-French forces in 1860.

The horse's head was part of a gigantic water clock decorated with the heads of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. When the Yuanmingyuan was invaded and destroyed at the end of the second opium war (1856-1860), the sculptures were stolen and taken abroad. The Chinese government has so far managed to bring back seven of them; the whereabouts of the remaining five is still unknown (dog, rooster, dragon, sheep and snake). The Chinese media strongly emphasize this "homecoming after 160 years" of the work of art.

The Communist Party of China has always described the theft of sculptures as a symbol of the "century of humiliation" suffered by China at the hands of foreign powers, which began with the First Opium War (1839-1842) and ended with the founding of the Republic Chinese People in 1949.

Yuanmingyuan was a very large complex of buildings and gardens in the Haidian area. The Jesuits Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766) and Michel Benoist (1715-1774) contributed to its realization.

The bronze horse that is celebrated today was donated in 2019 by Stanley Ho, the Macau casino tycoon, who died last May. He had purchased the artefact from a Sotheby's auction in 2007 for 8.9 million US dollars.