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Foreigners caught smuggling relics
By Shao Xiaoyi (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-05-31 05:37

HANGZHOU: Customs in this city in East China's Zhejiang Province announced yesterday the seizure of a large consignment of cultural relics from two foreign smugglers early this month, the first such case involving foreigners in the local customs authority's history.

About 310 pieces of celadon pottery, distinguished by its pale green glaze and which is forbidden from export, were confiscated at Xiaoshan International Airport in Hangzhou on May 4.

Two Japanese men about to board their plane were caught carrying the treasures in two trunks.

They tried to pass through the 'nothing to declare' channel but their large luggage aroused the suspicions of customs officers.

After investigation, authorities found the 310 pieces of celadon pottery were cultural relics worthy of study.

Not helping the case of the would-be smugglers were their changing stories. They first explained they had bought the pottery in Song Cheng, a local tourist spot in Hangzhou, but later claimed they had purchased the items on Hefangjie Street, a famous tourist destination known for selling duplicate ancient relics in Hangzhou, according to customs officials.

It later turned out that the celadon pottery works were valuable antiques dating back to the Five Dynasties (907-960) and Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), said Chai Xiuhua, director of the Appraisal Commission for Antiques.

"Some of the relics are well preserved and others even show signs of being excavated," said Chai.

It has been proved the relics were unearthed at Longkou Cave Site in Cixi, Zhejiang Province, which was listed as one of the 10 national archaeological discoveries of 1998, according to experts.

Experts said the traffickers must have had some knowledge of antiques.

The investigation is ongoing.

According to the Chinese Antiquity Protection Law, to export cultural relics produced before 1949 and works of famous late calligraphers and painters after 1949 you must first apply to the State Bureau of Cultural Relics for an export licence.

And cultural relics produced before 1795 are simply forbidden from export, according to Chai.

Hangzhou customs cracked five antique smuggling cases in airports from January to the end of May this year.

(China Daily 05/31/2005 page3)

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