Chinese should avoid foreign auctions of stolen relics, says legal observer

By Liu Caiyu Source:Global Times Published: 2018/4/15 22:38:40

Chinese institutions and individuals should not attend auctions of China's relics lost overseas, a Chinese legal expert said after a Chinese bronze vessel was sold in the United Kingdom last week.

An extremely rare vessel allegedly looted from Beijing's Old Summer Palace by a British officer in 1860 during the Second Opium War (1856-60) was sold for 410,000 pounds ($582,446) at Canterbury Auction Galleries on April 11.

"For many of the relics lost overseas in recent years… we need to claim them in accordance with international laws," according to an article published on the State Administration of Cultural Heritage's official WeChat account on Saturday.

For historical relics like the vessel, authorities need to state China's stance, the article said.

"Chinese institutions and individuals should refuse to attend commercial auctions of relics lost overseas," it noted.

The article was written by Huo Zhengxin, the deputy head of the school of international law at China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing.

There are many obstacles to claim back China's relics via legal procedures and the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property by UNESCO, does not apply to the bronze auctioned in the UK.

Prior to the auction in southern England, the same administration slammed the auction house for the sale and asked it to respect the cultural rights and feelings of the Chinese people, demanding the event and related promotional activities be canceled.

On April 8, the administration released a database of stolen relics. The database included more than 6,900 in countries including Peru, Japan and Iraq since 2008. Relics included in the database could not be auctioned in China.

Liu Zheng, a member of the China Cultural Relics Academy, echoed Huo. He told the Global Times on Sunday that laws are of limited use in helping China bring relics home, as many related nations have not signed the relevant conventions.

Stolen Chinese relics are displayed at museums in foreign nations, which makes them reluctant to return them due to economic losses, Liu said.

The most effective method is that the Chinese government should continue to ink bilateral deals with countries, especially developed countries, about how to recover relics lost overseas, Liu said.

China has signed bilateral agreements or memorandums of understanding with 20 countries including the US and Italy on the prevention of theft and trafficking of relics, according to the administration.

Chinese individuals are not encouraged to retrieve stolen relics, Liu said, adding that foreign auction houses intentionally raise the prices of lost Chinese relics by stirring up Chinese patriotism.


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