British Museum obliged to return stolen antiques to their owners

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, August 30, 2023
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The British Museum [Photo/VCG]

Authorities at the British Museum in London said on Saturday that around 2,000 artifacts, including gold jewelry and gems, had been stolen over a long period of time, adding later that some of the stolen items had been recovered.

The declaration created a storm on social networking sites, with people from across the globe saying, "Please return our antiques." People from around the world have long been asking the United Kingdom to return antiques taken away from their countries.

It's not the first time the British Museum has revealed artifacts have been stolen. In 1993, some Roman coins in its collection were stolen; in 2004, 15 Chinese mirrors, armors and jewelries disappeared; in 2021, some antique collectors from the Netherlands alerted the museum about some stolen exhibits being sold online at throwaway prices.

The British Museum claims it is the victim of theft. But wind back the clock and the museum itself becomes the thief, or receiver of the stolen goods; with China being one of its biggest victims.

The recent theft from the museum demolishes the claim that Chinese antiques are safer and better preserved at the British Museum. Anyone visiting the British Museum will confirm how precious antiques jostle for space on the premises.

The theft has renewed calls for the museum to return treasures stolen from other countries. For long, Britain has cited the British Museum Act 1963, which says the real owners of these stolen antiques are not in a position to protect them, to deny their return.

Now the theft of 2,000 artifacts shows who is really incapable of protecting them and the British Museum should accept that these stolen artifacts are a symbol of dishonor and past colonialism.

Some Western nations have already started returning antiques stolen from other countries. In 2017, France returned some pieces of bronze ware it had taken from Nigeria. In May, the United States returned to China some antiques its law enforcers found while cracking down on smugglers. An alliance of seven German museums is also researching which of their Chinese antiques were smuggled out of China after the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901), laying a foundation for returning such antiques.

With so many countries making amends, there is no reason for the British Museum to hold back.

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