Foreign smugglers and antiques raiders are using sophisticated salvage
equipment to steal China's underwater treasures, an investigation by the
Cultural Heritage Administration has found.
In China's territorial sea, there are thousands of sunken ships carrying
ancient treasures, mostly priceless porcelain.
Shan Jixiang, director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, told
China Daily that the illegal foreign salvage ships were often equipped with the
most advanced technology, in contrast with rudimentary ships and equipment used
by Chinese archaeologists and conservationists, who are trying to protect
China's underwater heritage.
Smuggler activities have been particularly heavy over the last two years.
The relics are traded on the international waters beyond China's maritime
boundaries before they are shipped to markets worldwide, many to the United
Besides underwater heritage artefacts, cultural items from ethnic minority
groups, such as costumes and musical instruments, are also a favorite among
international dealers and smugglers, Shan said.
The Chinese government has recovered a "great number" of cultural heritage
items stolen from the country in the past few decades, he said without
China has signed agreements with four countries Peru, the Philippines, India
and Italy on the protection and recovery of cultural heritage.
The first one, signed with Peru in 2000, has ensured "effective cooperation"
as both countries now share substantial intelligence on stolen relics.
Shan's administration yesterday invited Luis Chang, the former Peruvian
ambassador to China, to be a consultant to China's cultural heritage protection.
"We want more international help in the protection and recovery of Chinese
cultural heritage and we'd like to sign bilateral agreements with more
countries," Shan said.
China's underwater heritage has been pursued by art collectors and dealers
since the beginning of 2005, when about 15,000 pieces, mainly blue-and-white
porcelain about 300 years old, were found in a 13.5 meter sunken ship off the
coast of East China's Fujian Province.
Previously, rock carvings were largely targeted in the illicit heritage goods
trade, but activities have been curtailed since the Chinese government took more
effective protective measures.