Nation's relics threatened as never before
Cultural relics in China are under critical threat from smugglers, tomb raiders and thieves, warned Shan Jixiang, director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH), yesterday at a working conference of officials from cultural heritage administrations around China.
Smuggling and illegal excavations of Chinese relics have peaked since the 1990s, and the situation is worsening as the market for Chinese art booms both at home and abroad, said He Shuzhong, director of the law and policy office at SACH.
Chinese relics illegally excavated, stolen from museum collections or smuggled used to flow mainly to Europe, Japan and the United States, said He.
The latest trend is that many drop into the hands of art collectors in major Chinese cities, the official added.
"Such relics go where the highest prices are offered, but still a larger part of them have been smuggled abroad,'' He said.
The authorities are having more difficulty than a decade ago preventing the smuggling of Chinese art since smugglers who took the relics to Hong Kong first in the early 1990s have now developed more than 100 routes to get them abroad, said He.
Besides the booming market in Chinese art, messy management by authorities also leads to rampant smuggling, He said.
SACH received reports of 36 criminal cases concerning the loss of relics in collections of museums, Buddhist or Taoist temples and at historical sites this year, said Shan.
And among them only seven have been cracked, he added.
The amended Cultural Heritage Protection Law of China, which took effect last May, stipulated that all cases concerning the loss of cultural relics must be reported to the SACH.
"But it often happens that local authorities keep such cases secret and make no reports, or they simply do not realize their losses,'' said Liu Qifu, head of the relic security office of the SACH.
"The 36 cases count only for a tiny percentage of those that have happened in the past year,'' said He.