Bergen’s marble columns returned to China

Seven white marble columns from a Chinese palace looted by foreign forces will soon be returned to Beijing by a Norwegian museum after a controversial property developer offered it as a major donation, reports said Wednesday.

Bergen's marble columns returned to China
Seven marble columns at the KODE Art Museums in Bergen. Photo: KODE Art Museums of Bergen
The invasion and colonization of parts of China during the 19th century are still regularly highlighted by Communist authorities and remain enduring issues in the country, symbolized most emotively by historical treasures
Beijing says many were looted when British and French forces ransacked sites such as the Old Summer Palace and the Forbidden City.
The columns are among 21 in the KODE Art Museums of Bergen, which houses one of the most extensive Chinese art collections in Europe. They were part of Beijing's Old Summer Palace, or Yuanmingyuan, built in European style in the 18th century.
They will be returned to Peking University later this year and alumnus Huang Nubo, a real estate developer, will donate 10 million Norwegian kroner ($1.6 million) to the museum, according to the China Daily newspaper.
Huang, chairman of the Zhongkun Investment Group, made headlines last year when he made an unsuccessful bid to buy 300 square kilometres of land in Iceland to build a golf resort.
The move was met with suspicion by some Icelandic politicians who questioned whether it might be part of a geopolitical power play by China.
His latest action comes even as China-Norway relations remain frozen following the Norwegian Nobel Committee's awarding of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.
In an interview with the China Daily, Huang described his donation to the Norwegian museum as "a very meaningful action that shows patriotism, as well as a way of repaying back the mother country, which made me rich".
The columns are among some 2,500 Chinese art objects donated to the museum by Johan Wilhelm Normann Munthe, a Norwegian adventurer and cavalry officer who lived in China from 1886 — long after the palace's destruction — until his death in 1935.
During his nearly 50 years in China, Munthe enlisted in the Chinese army in the first Sino-Japanese war and became a close friend of Yuan Shikai, the Chinese president who made a short-lived bid to proclaim himself emperor. It is not known how Munthe acquired the columns. Their return comes as China is stepping up its efforts to re-acquire its lost relics.
During a December visit to Beijing, British Prime Minister David Cameron came under pressure from Chinese internet users who asked for the return of some 23,000 artefacts in the British Museum that were "illegally plundered" by British troops.
That came after French billionaire Francois Pinault, the owner of Christie's, last June gave back to China two bronze animal heads looted from the Old Summer Palace in 1860.
Months later, Christie's became the first international auction house to receive a licence to operate in mainland China.

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Norway central bank deputy denied security clearance over Chinese wife

The deputy governor of Norway's central bank resigned on Friday after he was denied security clearance because he is married to a Chinese citizen, the bank said.

Norway central bank deputy denied security clearance over Chinese wife
Illustration photo: Drahomír Posteby-Mach on Unsplash

“The Norwegian Civil Security Clearance Authority informs me that the reason that I will not receive a renewed security clearance is that my wife is a Chinese citizen and resides in China, where I support her financially,” Jon Nicolaisen said in a statement from the bank.

“At the same time, they have determined that there are no circumstances regarding me personally that give rise to doubt about my suitability for obtaining a security clearance, but that this does not carry sufficient weight. I have now had to take the consequences of this,” he added.

As deputy governor, Nicolaisen had special responsibility for following up the bank's task of managing Norway's sovereign wealth fund, the world's biggest valued at more than 1 trillion euros.

According to the bank, Nicolaisen and his wife have been married since 2010.

He was appointed to the job in 2014, and his position was renewed in April 2020.

Diplomatic relations between Norway and China also went into a long deep freeze after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010. Ties were normalised in 2017.

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