Tuesday, January 20, 2009


In its final days, the Bush administration reached a long-anticipated agreement with China that will ban imports of a wide range of Chinese antiquities into the United States to help stanch the growing illicit traffic in such artifacts.

The accord, signed on Wednesday, covers antiquities dating from the Paleolithic period, starting in 75,000 B.C., through the end of the Tang dynasty, in A.D. 907, and all monumental sculpture and wall art at least 250 years old. Yet it is not as broad as the ban China originally proposed in 2004, when it asked the United States to bar imports on a wide range of artifacts from the prehistoric period through the early 20th century.

Still, many archaeologists and other advocates of restrictions praised the policy and said they believed it would help prevent the plundering of ancient material and sites.

“I think this is a very appropriate way for the State Department to have applied the statute and the statutory requirements to China’s request,” said Patty Gerstenblith, a law professor at DePaul University in Chicago and the president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation. “We wish this would have come earlier, but we’re very glad to have it finally happen.”

China’s request had stirred passionate debate in the Asian art world. Prominent archaeologists and scholars supported the Chinese government, while many antiquities dealers and museum officials argued that China’s request was too broad and would be ineffective in reducing looting because of a thriving illicit market for such items inside China itself.

Over the last few years, the trade in plundered Chinese artifacts has drawn growing attention in the United States. In one of the more high-profile cases customs officials seized a 10th-century marble relief panel in 2000 that they said had been chiseled from an ancient tomb in northeastern China and was scheduled be sold at Christie’s.

United States customs officials have in principle been able to reject imports of items from China that they suspected of having been stolen or looted, but in practice relatively few items were intercepted. Now, many artworks and artifacts entering the United States will require detailed documentation, and items covered under the ban will be prevented from coming in unless the Chinese government makes specific exceptions.

The agreement, which was signed by Zhou Wenzhong, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, on the 30th anniversary of the opening of diplomatic relations between the United States and China, comes with a written understanding that China will devote more money and take other steps to stem looting and illegal exports, especially the movement of antiquities to the busy black markets in Hong Kong and Macao.

China has also agreed to ease the way for more archaeological loans and cooperation with American museums, to restrict its own museums from acquiring looted material and to explore ways of approving the legal export of more artifacts for sale.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please be on Alert

I am Richard Vijay, I know of a someone who has obtaned HAN era artifacts from China, by surretitious means. Apparently a member of the staff in the National Museum in a South East Asian country obtanied these artifacts originating in China and since they could not display them in the Museum called certain people who will buy them and as a result this person obtanied these artifacts. The artifacts apparently, were dug out from the ground by local people in the area where China's Three gorges Dam was being constructed.

10:25 PM  

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