- Elginism - http://www.elginism.com -

Problems with the declaration of Universal Museums

Many countries (generally most of those whose institutions weren’t involved in signing the declaration) have issues with the “Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums”, that was issued a few months ago. The declaration favours only seeing one version of history, while ignoring other verions and the original owners.

From:
People’s Daily [1]

Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Wednesday, January 22, 2003
Foreign Museums Refuse to Return Cultural relics, Chinese Experts in Action

On 10 December, 2002, eighteen major museums and research institutes of Europe and America, including the British Museum and the Louvre Museum, jointly signed a Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums (hereinafter referred to as “Declaration”), which opposes returning art works, especially ancient ones, to their original owners.

On 10 December, 2002, eighteen major museums and research institutes of Europe and America, including the British Museum and the Louvre Museum, jointly signed a Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums (hereinafter referred to as “Declaration”), which opposes returning art works, especially ancient ones, to their original owners.

“Over time, objects acquired-whether by purchase, or exchange of gifts – have become part of the museums that have cared for them, and by extension part of the heritage of the nations which house them”, the Declaration stated.

European and American museums house numerous Chinese treasures
Although there is no ready statistics showing how many Chinese relics scattered in these 18 museums, it is certain, experts said, that they are no small in number.

According to statistics released by Chinese Society of Cultural Relics, China’s cultural relics have been lost to amazing figures calculated by the million pieces, including hundreds of thousands of super-quality works, scattered in 47 countries, some of them being taken away in wartime. In terms of Chinese paintings alone, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York claims the biggest quantity while the British Museum boasts the best-quality paintings. As for porcelain, le Mus¨¦e Guimet of France is famed for its best collection of Asian art works. In America, over thousand large bronze wares of ancient China can be found, including at least thousand extraordinary pieces.

Among European countries, Britain has a richest collection of Chinese cultural objects, next comes France, in its Guimet museum over half of the works collected are of Chinese origin, more than 30,000 pieces in number.

“Declaration” goes against international conventions
In 1995 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) signed the Convention on Stolen and Illegally Exported Cultural Objects, stipulating that any cultural object looted or lost due to reasons of war should be returned without any limitation of time span. Apparently the Declaration by 18 museums runs counter to the sprit of international convention.

On March 7, 1997, the Chinese government acceded to the UN-signed Unidroit Convention on Stolen and Illegally Exported Cultural Objects, which laid down regulations that (1) stolen or illegally excavated cultural objects shall be returned to the owners (nation, natural or legal persons), (2) cultural objects exported illicitly shall be restituted upon request by the country of origin if it can prove that the illegal export would have an essential impact on scientific or cultural interests or that the object is of essential cultural significance for the country of origin. According to the Convention, the Chinese government has the right, in 75 years from then on, to demand return of cultural objects taken out of Chinese land through illegal means. This provides legal support for China’s demand for return of cultural objects. At the same time the Chinese government declared that China still reserved the right for the return of objects stolen or illegally exported before the Convention came into effect.

Chinese experts fight for return of treasures
On October 18, 2002, a special fund was established by the Chinese Social and Cultural Development Foundation in an effort to rescue lost cultural relics from overseas.

A group of experts gathered together today to protest the “Declaration” and discuss means to get cultural relics back. Currently, besides diplomatic channels, China chiefly buys back its treasures in auctions.

The protestation of experts will be made known to public and the Association calls for more entrepreneurs and non-governmental organizations to join in the rank fighting for the return of Chinese relics.

By PD Online Staff Li Heng