Smuggled relics to be sent home

By Wang Ying and Wang Shanshan (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-04-09 06:34

Some 156 Chinese cultural relics smuggled to Denmark two years ago are expected to return to Beijing tomorrow following a local court ruling in February to that effect.

The relics include pottery figurines of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) as well as some rare items dating back to the Xia (2100-1600 BC), Shang (1600-1100 BC), Yuan (1271-1368) and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties, said Song Xinchao, director of the museum department of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) at a reception Tueday hosted by the Chinese embassy to Denmark.

"The recovery of these items demonstrates the Chinese government's resolve to seek the return of relics illegally taken overseas," he said.

Song led a group of SACH experts to help pack the relics and bring them back home. The relics will be on display after their return.

Danish police seized a batch of smuggled Chinese cultural relics along with items from other countries in Copenhagen in February 2006, and immediately notified the Chinese embassy. From the pictures provided by Danish police, Chinese experts recognized them as cultural relics.

In accordance with a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) convention in 1970 that bans illegal trade in cultural relics, the Chinese government, through its legal representatives, filed an appeal in a local court in Denmark last August asking the local police to hand over the relics to the Chinese government.

An expert group from SACH was also dispatched to Denmark to help in the proceedings.

Back in China, the Ministry of Public Security and cultural relics protection departments located the sites of the stolen relics, providing the necessary legal evidence to the Danish court.

The court ruled in late February that the relics should be returned to China. The two countries completed the formalities for the handover earlier this month.

China has intensified efforts to recover its lost relics in recent years. One case involving Sino-US cooperation in the field began in March 2000, when a statue looted from a Chinese tomb in the Five Dynasties period (AD907-960) appeared in an advertisement for an auction in the US. The statue was seized by US Customs officials prior to the auction and after year-long legal and diplomatic talks, it finally returned home.

Shan Jixiang, director of the SACH, told China Daily in February that he would like to invite directors of major museums to the sites from which cultural artifacts have been looted.

"They should come and see how invaluable murals were cut into pieces and taken away and how ancient tombs were raided," he said, adding that China wants to sign with the US an MOU on cooperation in preventing theft of relics, illegal excavation and illicit trade of cultural property.

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