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The refusal of both auction houses to withdraw several lots, which the Chinese authorities claimed had been looted from Beijing’s Summer Palace by British troops during the Boxer Rebellion, prompted public demonstrations outside the auction rooms.

The Chinese government set about purchasing the controversial lots, including a hexagonal reticulated Qianlong famille-rose vase for HK$19m (£1.6m) – plus 20/15/10 per cent premium – at Sotheby’s on May 2. However, it was London dealer Eskenazi who purchased the Qianlong famille-rose ‘butterfly’ vase illustrated here, for HK$30m (£2.52m) – plus 17.5/10 per cent premium – at Christie’s on April 30. The previous highest price for a piece of Chinese porcelain was achieved at the Hong Kong series in the Spring of last year when Sotheby’s sold a Chenghua chicken cup, also to Eskenazi, for HK$25.4m (£2m) plus premium.