Huge amounts of artefacts from China have ended up in the hands of museums around the world. Estimates suggest that ten times as many are lost from view in the hands of private collectors.
People’s Daily Online 
UPDATED: 08:11, January 30, 2007
More than 10 million Chinese cultural relics lost overseas: report
Chinese experts estimated that more than 10 million Chinese cultural relics have been lost overseas, Monday’s overseas edition of the People’s Daily reported.
Most of the cultural relics were robbed and illegally shipped out of China during the war times before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese Culture Relics Society said.
The newspaper said about 1.67 million pieces of Chinese relics were housed in more than 200 museums in 47 countries, accounting for just 10 percent of all lost Chinese cultural relics.
“But those in the hands of private collectors are ten times higher,” the newspaper quoted the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization as saying.
The lost treasures were said to cover wide range of categories, including painting, calligraphy, bronze wares, porcelain, oracle bone inscriptions and ancient books and records.
The newspaper said most of the relics were currently owned by museums or private collectors in the United States, Europe, Japan and Southeast Asian countries.
There are more than 23,000 piece of Chinese culture relics in the British Museum, most of which were robbed or purchased for pennies more than 100 years ago.
Experts said that the major method to recover the national treasures were to buy them back. In some cases, private collectors donated the relics to the government. Besides, government can also resort to official channels to demand the return of relics.
In 2003, a priceless bronze pig’s head dating from the imperial Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) was returned to its home in Beijing after it was removed by invading Anglo-French Allied forces over 140 years ago.
Macao entrepreneur Stanley Ho donated 6 million yuan (about 722, 892 U.S. dollars) to buy back the sculpture from a U.S. art collector and then the sculpture was donated to the Poly Art Museum in Beijing.
Although to buy-back is the most feasible way to recover the lost treasures, limited funding is always a big headache, the newspaper quoted Zhang Yongnian, director of China’s Lost Cultural Relics Recovery Fund, as saying.
In recent years, the Chinese government has improved efforts to retrieve the precious cultural relics lost overseas. It has launched a national project on the recovery of the treasures and set up a database collecting relevant information.
The Chinese government has signed the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, and signed bilateral protocols with countries including Peru and Italy on this matter.
The government is also seeking international cooperation to retrieve the relics by liaising closely with the International Criminal Police Organization and the World Customs Organization.