Time to build a fund to retrieve relics from abroad

By Peter Fuhrman ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-06-18 10:56:22

Stolen objects

Much of the world's most valuable and important Chinese art is now outside of China, in museums and private collections. It's said there are over 17 million Chinese antiques in the US and Europe alone.

It's true that many of these important art works were stolen or pillaged. While some say it should all be returned to China, that isn't going to happen. Even when there's clear evidence a piece of art was plundered, as in the case of certain objects taken from the Summer Palace in Beijing, it's difficult for the Chinese government to demand successfully they be forfeited and returned to China.

China should continue to try to right this historic wrong. But, meantime, something else can be done. China's government should consider launching a national effort to buy Chinese art treasures on behalf of the nation and then distribute these art works among museums across the country. The goal: in coming years, every child in China will have frequent opportunities as I had to admire, study and be inspired by Chinese art.

Of course, beautiful and important art objects don't come cheap. Filling China's provincial and city art museums with Chinese treasures will cost money. My humble proposal: the Chinese government could start and manage a fund for the purchase of items of cultural and artistic importance. It can accept cash donations from philanthropic Chinese at home and abroad. At the same time, I'd suggest that every SOE voluntarily pay an annual dividend of 0.5 percent of its profits every year into this national heritage fund. Last year, that tiny dividend would have brought in close to $2 billion. Chinese private sector companies should be encouraged to match or exceed this pledge. I'm confident many will.

Every year, about $7 billion of Chinese antiques are sold at auction houses in China, Hong Kong, London and New York. The fund needs to be prudently, transparently and professionally managed, in particular not to stimulate a big run-up in prices. Over time, China will become the rightful home to more and more of the world's most important Chinese art treasures.

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