Cultural Relics Need Protection

The theft of cultural relics from museums has been reduced, but items are still being stolen from tombs and other sites in China, according to an official from the State Bureau of Cultural Relics.

Cultural relics departments nationwide should help the police combat such crimes, said Liu Qifu, a security official with the bureau.

Between November 9-11, a national meeting jointly sponsored by the Ministry of Public Security and the State Cultural Relics Bureau was held in Hebei Province to discuss the problem.

Dong Baohua, deputy director of the bureau, said at the meeting that cultural relics departments must organize to prevent thefts.

Dong also warned that crimes to steal and rob relics were being expanded to remote regions and criminals were becoming more sophisticated.

Last year, 148 relics were reported stolen in 37 separate cases in China, though that figure is believed to have been significantly reduced this year because more museums have adopted better anti-theft measures and equipment.

But it is still very difficult to protect cultural relics in the field, Liu admitted.

For example, it is nearly impossible to guard precious inscriptions on mountains around the clock, he said.

With more ancient tombs and remains being excavated, relic protection is becoming more difficult.

Officials believe that sometimes when an important tomb is discovered -- which often happens on construction sites -- workers rush to take items before protection experts arrive.

A booming international trade in stolen relics is the main reason for these crimes, Liu said.

Lured by large profits, many international traders and organizations ignore international conventions banning the purchase of important stolen items.

Difficulties in preventing smuggling has also contributed to more thefts, Liu said.

Experts believe protection laws need to be improved.

Public security departments and customs offices nationwide have cracked down on relic thefts in recent years.

For example, this month Shanghai Customs confiscated more than 700 cultural relics which were about to be smuggled out of the country.

Co-operation between cultural relics departments, police and customs should be further strengthened, Liu said.

(China Daily 11/16/2000)

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