When Cai Mingchao 蔡铭超, a Xiamen businessman and advisor to China’s state fund for cultural relics “lost overseas” 流外, identified himself as the successful bidder for the two heads from the Yuanmingyuan at the Paris auction, he said that he had no plans to pay and had merely acted out of patriotism. But he didn’t become an instant hero. Indeed, suggesting that his actions had been controversial, he disappeared from public view until an interview on Central Television on 14 March.
Xie Chen 谢辰生, an honorary president of the China Cultural Relics Society 中国文物学会名誉会长，said that since the government had announced that it would not buy back goods “illegally taken out of the country,” Cai’s actions were against the government and therefore could not be patriotic. All he had done, according to Xie, was to drive the price of the artifacts sky high. The popular Beijing Evening News 北京晚报 speculated that Cai was not acting on his own but took orders from Wang Ting-han 王定乾, a collector who has stayed in the background. A business partner of Wang’s, Tsai Chen-yang 蔡辰洋, who has the same surname as Cai, has earlier acquired two other heads from the series at another auction. According to the article, Wang may have hoped to drive the value of his two objects higher by having Cai drive up the bid.