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Nation to reclaim looted and stolen relics
By Jiang Zhuqing (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-04-13 05:44

Cultural relic experts and NGOs have set the wheels in motion to begin reclaiming China's national treasures from abroad.

The China Cultural Relics Recovery Programme, funded by the China Foundation for the Development of Folklore Culture, announced a large-scale programme on Monday to claim back Chinese cultural relics scattered around the world.

According to Zhang Yongnian, head of the programme, the group will focus on items that were stolen, excavated or looted and trafficked abroad between 1840 and 1949, before the founding of New China.

Statistics from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization suggest about 1.67 million Chinese cultural relics are held by more than 200 foreign museums in 47 countries.

Some estimates put the number of relics collected by private individuals at 10 times that figure.

"The spiritual wealth can be shared (by the whole world), but not the ownership, just like the property rights on software," said Xie Chensheng, a senior cultural heritage preservation expert.

"Ownership of the scattered cultural treasures should lie with the Chinese people," he said.

But Director-General of the programme Wang Weiming was keen to stress there would be no indiscriminate witch-hunt. He said: "We don't mean to retrieve all the Chinese relics stored in foreign museums."

He added that the programme is a civil movement fueled by Chinese NGOs based on public opinion, historical realities and an international convention to protect cultural relics at their original sites.

Curbing the export of cultural relics has become a consensus recognized by many governments, relics experts said.

"Our next step is to compile the list of relics that need to be returned," Wang said.

"The first cultural relic that we want to get back will be a recognized artistic treasure," he said, without elaborating on what the target would actually be.

(China Daily 04/13/2005 page2)

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