April 1, 2005

The return of Chinese cultural relics

Posted at 12:59 pm in Similar cases

Zhang Yongnian appear to be continuing his quest to buy back China’s looted artworks – while he might be able to acquire more of the artworks using this method (at a cost) it is generally not acceptable ethically amongst Museum Professionals to deal with the situation in this way. However, if he wants to deal with the problem in this way & the Chinese government is happy with this approach then there is nothing in principle to stop them doing it. However, so far I have heard a lot of talk about it, but not seen much sign of artworks actually being returned as a result.

China Radio International

The Return Home of Chinese Cultural Relics
2005-3-30 14:08:46
Rescuing lost cultural relics from overseas has become a hot topic in recent times. Apart from the practicalities of securing the return of such artifacts, it’s also become time to discuss what this cultural reunification means to China, and to the world. Our reporter Shanshan will talk to some leading figures in the field of cultural relics and find out what progress is being made.

Since the 1840s, Chinese cultural relics began to leave China just as quickly as the Western world arrived. Yet now, many years after the actual thefts, people are starting to wonder where these antiques can be located, and if they can now be returned to China. In fact, the Chinese government and NGOs have already noted the flow of cultural relics back to China. They are trying their best to encourage this flow, which is, for many reasons, very important to Chinese people.
Luo Zhewen is President of the State Cultural Relics Society, and an expert within the State Bureau for the Preservation of Cultural and Historical Relic. He gives a description of China’s lost cultural artifacts.

“Chinese cultural relics in overseas countries can be divided into three categories. The first kind are those given as presents to other countries, a trend which has been very common since the Tang Dynasty. The second kind are those used as a cultural exchange. The third kind are those we refer to as ‘cultural relics lost overseas,’ which were taken abroad by means of robbing stealing and smuggling.”

In recent years, Chinese standards of living have improved and China’s national strength has grown. Subsequently China’s voice carries more weight, which in turn enhances the government’s ability to recover lost historical relics. Yet there is also a growing global movement, as developing countries grow increasingly vociferous in their demands for the return of lost antiquities.

The Special Fund for Rescuing Lost Cultural Relics from Overseas under the China Social-Cultural Development Foundation was founded in 2002 with the support of over 300 experts and business people. It’s an NGO, whose wordy name is at least accurate in describing it as a fund aimed at rescuing China’s lost cultural relics. Zhang Yongnian is the director of this fund, and attaches great significance to their activities.

“These cultural relics are the witnesses of history and precious cultural treasures. Their loss causes a gap in the study of history. Moreover, for Chinese people, the loss of cultural relics represents a history of being insulted and invaded, so rescuing them can give Chinese people a feeling of patriotism.”

Zhang Yongnian also talks about the responsibilities of his organization and what they are currently working on.

“We have been calling on people from all walks of life to realize the importance of this issue and contribute to our fund. The second thing we are currently doing is collecting information about lost cultural relics. Finally, we are raising funds to buy the cultural relics.”

Although the Fund is making every effort to rescue these cultural relics, the fact remains that once they are in the museums, it is very difficult to get them back. So the rescue of lost cultural relics from overseas mostly focuses on those collected privately.

There are three ways in which the fund can rescue overseas culture relics. The first way is donation; enterprises or individuals buy relics and then donate them to the government via the fund. The second way is to buy these cultural relics with money accumulated by the fund. This applies to cultural relics that were legally brought by overseas collectors, since before the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, there were no restraints on the export of cultural relics. The third way is to demand the return of cultural relics stolen during the 19th century invasion of China by Western countries. Yet this is by far the most difficult route, and has yet to yield a single successful result. As far as Zhang Yongnian is concerned, economic methods are the best methods.

“Cultural relics are not only witnesses of history and culturally valuable, they are also commodities. We respect the ownership of cultural relics if they are in the hands of individuals and under good protection. Moreover, if the owners are willing to sell them in China, we will pay for them properly, according to the estimated value.”

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