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China to Ban Removal of Older Cultural Relics
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The Chinese government will ban individuals from taking cultural relics predating 1911 out of the country, amid efforts to strengthen the protection of cultural heritage, a senior official said on Tuesday.

"Previous regulations stipulated that cultural relics predating 1795 could not be taken across the border by individuals. However, the base line is going to be adjusted to 1911," said Shan Jixiang, director for the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH).

"The end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), China's last feudal society, is a convenient social mark for Chinese archaeologists," Li Peisong, vice director of the SACH's Museum Department, told Xinhua.

The year 1911 was almost 100 years ago, which accords with international practice defining cultural relics protection based on centennial marks, Li said, noting the smuggling of China's cultural relics abroad has been a severe problem for many years.

Shan said the new regulation would be promulgated before the end of this year. It also stipulates that important cultural relics produced before 1949 and major ethnic minority relics before 1966 could not be removed, except those taking part in overseas exhibitions, Shan said.

Ethnic minority relics, especially those with distinct ethnic features, enjoy great international popularity, said Tala, director of the Institute of Cultural and Historical Relics and Archeology of north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

"Traditional Mongolian women's headgear decorated with red coral, turquoise, pearl, and precious metals, are treasures of the Mongolian ethnic group and have long been favored by overseas collectors. Some have been lost overseas due to the lack of legal protection," said Tala, himself of Mongolian ethnic origin.

Tala said headgear, saddles, and other costumes could be sold to affluent private collectors for millions of yuan on the global market because the materials from which they were made are hard to find, especially after 1966.

He said Mongolian cultural relics could not be easily identified as herders still used traditional silver bowls at home, some of which are very old and easily bought and smuggled by private collectors.

Laws and regulations say the removal of cultural relics should first be approved by the State Council, and they must go through the port designated by the government and declared to Customs.

Chinese experts estimated that more than 10 million Chinese cultural relics have been lost overseas.

According to the Chinese Culture Relics Society, most of the cultural relics were stolen and smuggled out of China before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

The lost treasures include paintings, calligraphy, bronzeware, porcelain, oracle bone inscriptions, and ancient books and records.

(Xinhua News Agency May 30, 2007)

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