French auction house scraps sale of historic Chinese seal

A French auction house has cancelled the sale of a historic Chinese seal for 1.1 million euros ($1.4 million) after threats of legal action alleging it may have been stolen from Beijing's Forbidden City in 1860.

Artcurial cancelled the December sale due "to the emotions provoked in China," a spokesman told AFP on Friday, adding: "We have conveyed our decision to the buyer and the seller."

The green jade seal, which dates from the Qianlong period (1736-95) and had been expected to fetch up to 200,000 euros, went for over five times that amount to an unidentified telephone bidder.

The Association for the Protection of Chinese Art in Europe (APACE) had urged Artcurial to withdraw it from the sale saying it was taken by Anglo-French troops when they pillaged the Summer Palace.

Artcurial had said that the seal, 2cm high by 4.5cm long, comes from the personal collection of a French family which has owned it since the end of the 19th century.

The Old Summer Palace, or Yuanmingyuan, was looted by a joint British and French military expedition during the second Opium War on October 18-19, 1860. The event is seen in China as a national humiliation.