Francois-Henri Pinault, who heads the French luxury-goods conglomerate PPR, declared that the Pinault family had decided to donate two bronze heads of a rat and a rabbit back to China. The two bronze sculptures were among the 12 animal heads that were looted from the old Summer Palace pillaged by the joint troops of Britain and France during the Second Opium War (1856-60).
It remains fresh in the minds of the Chinese people that four years ago, the two bronze heads were auctioned by Christie's, triggering a round of verbal conflict between China and France. But now, that the French offer to return the two pieces of Chinese treasure is a tremendous turn-around.
This offer can easily remind people of the latest order that China placed to purchase 60 Airbus planes. Although PPR is not involved in the aerospace business, people are inclined to associate these two events, speculating that the 60 airplanes were traded for the bronze heads as a kickback for the contract.
In Sino-French trade, China boasts a favorable surplus. The order for 60 Airbus planes did not radiate a political impact as strong as if China canceled such an order if the Sino-French relationship was ever reversed. The idea about trading the planes for the bronze heads would make China seem mean-spirited.
Pinault and his stance on behalf of the French people should be appreciated.
In fact, after the 2009 auction of the two bronze heads in which a Chinese buyer won the bid but refused to pay the money, 80 percent of French people, according to a survey conducted by Le Figaro, were in favor of returning these sculptures back to their place of origin.
It is true that friendliness between two countries cannot come from nowhere. But the slight change that saw the two bronze heads "donated" instead of being "bought" back is a strong one.
If the return of the two bronze heads can be seen as an offer made free of charge, then it is believed that the favorable impression it leaves behind will be much more valuable than the auction price. As the Chinese economy is developing into a value-added market, other countries are changing their traditional ways of communicating with China.
Complicated matters around the globe are only recognizable when China has its own confidence. Superficial reaction will distort China's view. A clear understanding of both China itself and the rest of the world is a challenge for all Chinese people.