Thursday, 18 November 2010

China: Protecting Sites needs More Resources ("So Let's Carry on Buying Antiquities"?)

China Daily (Nov 18, 2010 ) reports that the 'Protection of relics in China needs more resources':
Police and authorities protecting cultural relics plan to work more closely to fight the rising frequency of grave robbery and smuggling of cultural treasures in the country. The plan from the Ministry of Public Security and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage includes setting up joint offices between local police and cultural relics bureaus, according to the two departments.
"We're also considering rewarding members of the public who offer tips and report such crimes," Shan Jixiang, director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, said on Wednesday while attending an exhibition on a nationwide crackdown against grave robbery and relics smuggling. Between the launch of the national crackdown in December 2009 and this June, authorities had cracked 541 cases, broken up 71 grave robbery gangs and smuggling groups, and seized 2,366 cultural relics, according to figures released on Wednesday.

Although grave digging and relics smuggling are banned in China, mouthwatering profits still lure an increasing number of people to take the risk, including some villagers living near historical sites, according to a press release from the exhibition. It said crimes related to cultural relics in the country are becoming violent. Weapons are frequently used to fight police. The release added that grave robbers are equipped with more advanced devices, such as GPS, metal detectors, specialized vehicles and explosive tools, which can seriously damage cultural sites and ancient graves. In addition, the criminal groups have become more organized, with members responsible for specific tasks such as stealing, transferring, selling and smuggling the relics.

The shortage of funds at the local level has worsened the situation. "We really lack support," said Han Yulin, a team leader of the special investigation police team in Xi'an of Northwest China's Shaanxi province, which is rich in cultural relics. "There are only 17 policemen on our team, and we have to deal with all cultural relic crimes in Xi'an. It's almost impossible," he said.
Another article from May this year Fan Junmei & Ma Yujia, 'A grave robber's world',, May 15, 2010) describes the process of robbing tombs for collectables for foreign markets in much more detail.
Grave robbing is now "industrialized" into a chain of excavation, smuggling, storage, and selling.It's often a team activity with a core leader who masterminds the operation. Another individual is responsible for obtaining the equipment needed for a specific grave excavation. Then there are "technical workers," who locate the tomb's precise position. Finally, there are the laborers, mostly migrant workers, who dig and get dirty.
From stolen to legal
Grave robbers attempt to find a reliable and generous purchaser as soon as possible, and generally, the items are smuggled in 3 days. There are two paths to transfer stolen relics. The first is to smuggle them through Guangzhou or Shenzhen. The other is to stockpile them at several distribution centers in Henan, Shanxi and Gansu for eventual transfer to Hong Kong and Taiwan, before finally being sold abroad. According to Wu Shu, a well-known Chinese collector and author, after the stolen relics were smuggled and sold abroad, collectors purchased them and brought them back to China. This effectively made the previously stolen relics legal, because according to Chinese laws, Chinese relics returned from overseas don't need to be reviewed by customs officials, and it's legal to buy and sell them. [...] Huang Zuyue, an official from Ministry of Public Security, told Global People, "Huge profits have driven the cases of stealing, reselling and smuggling relics." The statistics showed that about 200 million ancient Chinese graves were excavated illicitly in recent years. "At present China's reserve of cultural relics is nearly depleted," Wu Shu said with great anxiety.
So I wonder how the ACCG's court case against the US government's ban on the import of illegally exported cultural artefacts from China is coming along? "We really lack support" said the policeman; the greatest lack of support however comes from the foreign dealers and collectors of exotic dugup metalwork who not only buy the stuff no-questions-asked but insist on calling it their (as US citizens) "right". What right is there in putting money into the pockets of organized gangs of culture thieves? And who is the real culture thief, the guy with the spade who knows that someone will give him money for digging, or the person that encourages them to do the dirty work for them?

UPDATE: Peter Tompa ('Blame the Foreigner') writes: Archaeo-blogger Paul Barford reiterates Chinese propaganda in his latest post. So all this talk about looting is all "propaganda"? So the coins that ACCG imported into Baltimore were produced by coin elves and were not dug out of the ground? Pull the other one Mr Tompa. Propaganda?

Photo: One of the three grave robbers who were caught by the police in southeast China's Zhejiang Province in 2007 is showing how to use what the newspaper describes as "a remote sensor". We know what it really is, and who uses them and what for.

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