Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Tuesday 03/03/09

Coded message: Eric – heard the news. Good luck!

Yet another e-cigar failure – that’s 3 in just over a month. Went to the Post Office in order to have it sent back via registered mail, only to be stood in a queue for half an hour with a bunch of pensioners and mothers collecting state money to which Harriet Harman must believe they’re not entitled. Have these people never heard of having state handouts paid direct into their bank accounts? Mind you, they must have little else to do, so standing a queue for God-knows-how-long is their equivalent of pumping iron at the gym or a power-lunch.

Cai Mingchao, an adviser to China's National Treasures Fund who won a high profile auction for two bronze artworks belonging to the estate of the late Yves Saint Laurent, says he will not pay for them. The sculptures, which sold for 15m euros each in Paris last week, were originally looted from Beijing in 1860 and have been claimed by China, which seeks to have all looted treasure returned. So it was a publicity stunt. I wonder whether the Chinese government will quietly disown him now and move away from him faster than a dropping HBOS share.

From what I can gather, the statues were looted during the 2nd Opium War (didn’t know we’d fought the Opiums twice – the bastards obviously don’t know when they’re licked), the purpose of which was to have the opium trade legalised - along with one of two other equally imperialist and highly ridiculous demands. In return for not allowing us to push Indian opium on the Chinese in exchange for all the tea in China, France and Britain decided to kick 7 bells out of Beijing, taking a few trinkets with them on their exit. The fact that France and Britain had co-operated on anything was a major surprise to everyone – not least the French and the British, who had a history of doing nothing but making war on each other over the previous 800 odd years. I suppose it must have been a war interlude.

The expedition was led by one Lord Elgin, whose dad wasn’t above a bit of petty larceny and had a kerfuffle with some Greeks about a bag of marbles he’d bought from the Turks, which are now languishing in the British Museum and wanted back by the colonels (are they still in power?). Elgin ordered the burning of the summer palace in Peking, it taking 3,500 British troops to set the palace ablaze and three days for it to burn (they must have been as incompetent at fire-lighting as me). One assumes that an enterprising soldier – if not Elgin himself – ‘liberated’ the statues from the inferno, thus claiming them by right of being victor ludorum. Had they not been liberated, they would doubtless have perished and ended up as small heaps of slag.

Laws on looting and pillage didn’t appear on the statue books till the Hague Convention of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, prior to which looting was perceived as the right of a conqueror – or even a loser, if he could abscond with his loot before the winners came on the scene and caught him at it.

On top of that, in the ‘60s and ‘70s the Chinese government (which had nothing whatsoever to do with the Chinese government of a century earlier) had a little party which they somewhat quaintly called the Cultural Revolution, being probably the single largest wholesale destruction of cultural artefacts since Geiseric the Vandal (also known as Geisieric the Hoodie) sacked Rome in the year 400 odd, and accidentally gave his tribe’s name to a highly distinctive form of looting involving graffiti and stealing chariot wheels (the Vandals actually came from what is modern-day Poland, and not Toxteth). It’s highly probable these statues would have disappeared during the 10 years of the Cultural Revolution, had they not already been sold off by corrupt government officials.

Now to the surprising bit; the statues are part of a fountain, which by the time of the looting had already been dismantled and was in the process of being melted down. Not only that, but the whole fountain was designed by a French Jesuit, Father Michel Benoist, in the late 1700s. You can read about the statues here.

Why anyone would want to bid 15m Euros each for a couple of bronzes which were destined to be melted down for scrap by the Emperor and aren’t exactly 100% Chinese cultural icons in any case, is beyond me. You can get a decent mega yacht for that. Not only that, but who the hell goes around looting plumbing from water features.

Think I’m going to have to start a ‘Bad Things I Was Found Out Doing Yesterday’ section. Yesterday it was eating chocolate while maintaining I’m trying to shed the winter plumage. Arrived home with my bum covered in chocolate, which had fallen between my legs onto the seat of the car while I was driving. Dead give-away. Hay gave me hell.


  1. Morning, Chairman!

    I just wondered if you had given any thought to teaching as a future occupation. I'm sure there are history departments up and down the country that would be willing to take you on. Your explanation of the opium wars was far more memorable than the one I was given by the most boring teacher in existance - and it took him three 45 minute lessons to do it too!

    I think work verification is working for our Polish friends today - lojeckfz. (or is it the Welsh?)

    The Spiv

  2. Excellent, loved the bag of marbles reference - I have an awful feeling tho' that if Lord Elgin hadn't taken his chisel to the temples we might have had nothing remaining to look at in some parts of the Med?!

  3. Hmmm, you can't start fires anymore and you secretly eat chocolate...... What is going on?