BEIJING, China (CNN) -- The man who successfully bid for two Chinese sculptures at auction and then refused to pay up is being called both a national hero and national embarrassment in China.
Cai Mingchao bid about $40 million for the two bronze sculptures at an auction in Paris, France, of the late Yves Saint Laurent's collection.
He then refused to pay for them, claiming the sculptures belong to China.
"We've stood up and thankfully, I was given this opportunity, which I feel is my responsibility," said Cai, who works for China's National Treasures Fund. "What I want to stress is I will not pay for this bid."
It was not clear if Cai was acting on his own or with the government's authority.
On the front pages of the state-run papers in China, it's all about the man who says he will not pay.
Headlines read, "Patriotic bidder thwarts relics' sale," "Bidder traps Christie's," and "Mysterious Bidder Emerges."
China's blogs are also flooded with strong reaction on both sides. One calls Cai a national hero, but others question whether his act was patriotic. Said one blogger: "He's ruined the reputation of the Chinese people."
In the days before the auction at Christie's in Paris, the Chinese government demanded the sculptures be returned.
The government says it had nothing to do with the bogus bid but insists the sale should never have been made.
"This belongs to China," said Qin Gang, a foreign ministry spokesman. "It illegally ended up in a foreign country. We oppose the auction."
The bronze heads of a rat and a rabbit were featured in last week's auction of art, jewelry and furniture from Saint Laurent's estate. Each one was sold for more than $20 million, double the pre-auction estimate.
The heads are part of a set of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac that adorned a fountain in China's Summer Palace. They were based on the drawings of a Jesuit missionary for the fountain and are prized for their naturalistic, expressive faces and realistic detail.
They disappeared from China when French and British troops pillaged the palace during the Second Opium War in 1860.
To many Chinese, the two bronze sculptures are painful reminders of what China-watchers call the "hundred years of humiliation syndrome," especially because the antiquities disappeared when a weak China was subjected to invasion and bullying by Western powers.
China has moved to punish Christie's after the sale. China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage decreed tighter inspections on all cultural relics that Christie's seeks to bring in and out of China, a move meant to choke Christie's small but potentially big auction business in China.
Other wealthy buyers have in the past paid large amounts of money for looted Chinese relics at auction, then donated them to China, but Cai vows no money will change hands.
Christie's is not commenting on the sale or the possibility that Cai will not pay.
"We do not comment on the identity of our consignors or buyers, nor do we comment or speculate on the next steps that we might take in this instance," said a spokesman who declined to be named.
Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent's partner who jointly owned the items with the designer, told French state radio he would keep the two bronze sculptures if the sale is not resolved.
"I will keep them at my home," Berge said. "That is where they were and that is where they will return and we will continue to live together."
The auction of works from the Yves St. Laurent collection raised just over $483 million, Christie's said. That set a world record for a private collection sold at auction, the auction house said.
So who is more of an idiot? The buyer? Or the seller?
Imagine this... long long time ago, your grandfather's friend saw a set of very nicely crafted Fu Lu Shou that your grandfather had bought from China. Greed stroke and he stole Fu when he left the house. Twenty years later at present day, you saw the same Fu on ebay. Apparently the seller was your grandfather's friend's grandson. Will you bid high price for it, but when you were the highest bidder, decided not to pay for it?
What do we observe from this incident?
- Your grandfather's friend was an idiot to steal a Fu out of a set of Fu Lu Shou. So what if he got hold of Fu? Place it in his living room and show to his friends saying "Hey! Look at my nice Fu! Doesn't matter if it's an odd Fu out of a set of Fu Lu Shou!"? And how will he explain to his friends the whereabouts of Lu and Shou?
- Your grandfather's friend's grandson was an idiot too. Who did he think will be interested to buy just a Fu? Somebody who stole Lu and Shou but missed out Fu? And if he was fully aware of the rightful owner of the Fu, shouldn't he just give it back instead of putting on ebay and let the whole wide world acknowledge that his grandfather was the thief?
- You were an idiot to bid for something and not pay for it on an internationally renowned site. What if ebay bans you from future bidding because of this incident? And even if you could continue to bid, what does it say of your credibility? Which seller will be willing to take the risk and sell anything to you? Worse still, the Fu still remained in the buyer's hands! So what is the purpose of bid and not pay here? What did you archieve? Public awareness that your grandfather's friend stole from your family? Is this really the best way to create publicity? What were you expecting the seller to do when you did not pay for it? Return it to you for free?
Cai Mingchao,bronze sculptures,Yves Saint Laurent,China's National Treasures Fund,Christie's,China's Summer Palace,French troops,Second Opium War,Pierre Berge