Chinese netizens show support for Greece’s request for UK to return Parthenon relics, challenge British Museum’s ownership of looted Chinese relics
Published: Mar 14, 2021 07:01 PM
Parthenon Photo:VCG


Chinese netizens showed support for Greece's request that the UK return Parthenon marble sculptures on Sunday, going on to question whether the looted Chinese relics displayed at the British Museum are the legitimate property of the museum.

The question came after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to return several Parthenon marble sculptures to Greece, claiming that the museum is the legitimate owner of the relics.

"But the UK government has a firm longstanding position on the sculptures, which is that they were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the appropriate laws of the time and have been legally owned by the British Museum's trustees since their acquisition," he told the Greek newspaper Ta Nea, according to a report by the Guardian on Friday. 

His response not only ignited the anger of many netizens in Greek but also those in China, with many taking to social media to condemn the statement. 

"Two robbers who will be sanctioned by history, one is called France and the other is called the United Kingdom," one Chinese netizen commented on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo in a post that earned a lot of thumbs-up. 

"Greece is doing it the right way! In Johnson's logic, the looted Chinese artifacts from China's Old Summer Palace are also everyone's 'shared heritage' and legitimately owned by the UK?" one Chinese netizen asked on Sina Weibo. 

Some Chinese netizens quoted the famed French writer and poet Victor Hugo's letter concerning the sacking of the Old Summer Palace by French and British forces in 1860: "The devastation of the Summer Palace was accomplished by the two victors acting jointly. Mixed up in all this is the name of Elgin, which inevitably calls to mind the Parthenon. What was done to the Parthenon was done to the Summer Palace, more thoroughly and better, so that nothing of it should be left."

"Most relics displayed at the British Museum are quite controversial. If the UK agreed to return the Parthenon marble sculptures, other countries including Egypt, Italy and China might follow in the footsteps of Greece by making the same request, so the British Museum will not take the risk and break fresh ground," Huo Zhengxin, a law professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times on Sunday.

According to Huo, lost overseas cultural relics return to China in one of three ways: through international legal channels, through diplomatic negotiations or by purchasing them. He said that in the case of the Old Summer Palace relics, they are unlikely to be purchased as the relics, according to the law of the UK, now "belong to" the culture property of the national museum.

"The return of relics requires a lot of historical evidence, communication between countries and a legal basis, so although we hope something can be recovered, that does not mean it can be recovered easily," Guan Qiang, deputy director of China's National Cultural Heritage Administration, once told the Global Times.