Smuggled out just 4 years ago, a rare Tang Dynasty sarcophagus returns to China

No wonder customs is so difficult when it comes to exporting antique stone these days…..

The return of a smuggled Tang Dynasty (AD 618 – 907) sarcophagus from the United States to China may serve as a good example for international collaboration to curb the rampant pillaging and smuggling of treasures, researchers have said.

The 27-ton stone coffin of Tang empress Wu Huifei (AD 699-737) arrived at the Shaanxi History Museum on Thursday, four years after it was smuggled out of the country.

The sarcophagus is 4 meters long, 2 meters wide and 2 meters high. It features flowers and maiden figures in relief. Robbers stole it from Wu’s tomb in the southern suburbs of Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi province, in 2006.

“It is a rare cultural relic with high scientific, historical and artistic value,” said Liu Daiyun, director of the research department of the Shaanxi provincial archaeological research institute.

Xi’an police found out about the sarcophagus in February 2006 during an investigation over a tomb robbery. They seized a computer containing a number of its pictures in a suspect’s house and local archaeologists soon identified the relic’s origin.

After two years of investigations, police discovered the sarcophagus had been smuggled out of China and sold to a businessman in the US for $1 million, police sources said.

“We contacted the businessman through mediators and told him we had to get the relic back. If necessary, we would seek help from Interpol,” said Han Yulin, head officer of the heritage investigation team of Xi’an’s public security bureau.

“After three rounds of negotiations, he agreed to return the relic to China unconditionally.”

The sarcophagus was shipped back on March 16 from Virginia and arrived in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, on April 17.

“Although this is not the first time smuggled antiques have been returned through legal means, it is still encouraging,” said Tan Ping, head of the museum and cultural relics department of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH).

The pillaging of Chinese antiques is a serious problem in China. Chinese art analysts have blamed a thriving global market for the relics as the reason behind widespread tomb robberies.

“Pillaging at archaeological sites and smuggling of relics have become rampant in recent years,” SACH deputy director Tong Mingkang said last Saturday, which was China’s Cultural Heritage Day.

Driven by high profits, a number of people have put numerous looted and smuggled Chinese artifacts on sale in foreign countries, Tong said.

Foreign museums have a collection of about “1.64 million Chinese relics”, Tan said, adding that it was impossible to provide an exact figure for those relics in the hands of private collectors.

SACH has reiterated its objection to any auction or purchase of smuggled Chinese cultural relics.

Tan said China continues to seek the return of its looted relics through “legal or diplomatic means”.

To that effect, the country has reached agreements with 11 countries including Peru, India, Italy and the US to impose import restrictions on relics.

These restrictions will reduce the economic incentive behind the pillaging, said Professor Li Boqian, an archaeologist at Peking University.

“If looters cannot send the items to buyers in the United States or other foreign countries, they are less likely to risk raiding an archaeological site,” Li said.

The professor also stressed the importance of local police efforts in fighting the problem.

“Xi’an police set a good example by keeping a close eye on the looting of antiques,” Li said.

China has retrieved nearly 4,000 antiques through legal and diplomatic means since 1998, SACH archives showed.
State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH):  http://www.sach.gov.cn/
Shaanxi History Museum:  http://www.sxhm.com/

唐贞顺皇后石椁移交仪式在我馆隆重举行

本网讯:20106171430分,唐贞顺皇后敬陵被盗石椁的交接仪式在我馆隆重举行。景俊海副省长、陕西省公安厅、陕西省文物局、西 安市公安局、西安海关、陕西出入境检验检疫局等相关单位的领导出席移交仪式,CCTV-新闻频道进行现场直播。中央电视台从17日上午730分起分别在 各档新闻节目中进行滚动报道,引起了社会各界的高度关注。新华社、人民日报、文汇报、陕西电视台、华商报等二十多家媒体蜂拥而至,进行了详细的采访和报 道。

几年来,西安警方不懈努力,积极追索流失文物。2009年警方通过特情获悉,石椁已被美国某古董商购买。经反复联系沟通,古董商表示愿意派代表与我们谈 判,约定于20091229日在香港,与其代表人迈克见面,洽谈石椁的归还问题。事情取得了重要进展,我们立即向上级领导汇报,引起领导的高度重视, 决定由西安市公安局刑侦局胡家华政委、李浩处长、韩清龙大队长和我馆程旭副馆长、文物征集处师小群处长组成追索文物谈判小组,赴港与对方谈判。在谈判中, 我们就文物的所有权、涉案性质、追索归还等原则问题阐明了立场,美方代表则对法律责任、归还方式等问题有所顾虑。虽然没有达成实质性协议,但美方表达了愿 意与中国警方和博物馆合作的意向,并表示尽力说服其委托人把石椁归还中国。最终美方买家同意将石椁无条件归还并交与博物馆。
在移交仪式上,西安市公安局副局长肖西亮介绍案情和追索过程,陕西省文物鉴定委员会负责人呼林贵宣读鉴定结论及介绍石椁历史价值,省公安厅副厅长马中林、 陕西历史博物馆馆长成建正签署了移交证书,陕西历史博物馆党委书记冯庚武致辞,对省委、省政府、省文物局领导的重视与支持,西安警方、海关、出入境检验检 疫等相关部门的密切配合表示感谢。出席交接仪式的副省长景俊海指出,此次文物回归,表明陕西公安、文物联合保护文物的机制是有效的、有力的,我们有能力保 护好陕西丰富的文物资源。他希望公安机关和文物部门继续紧密配合,打防结合,建立新的文物保护机制,确保文物安全,打击盗窃、盗掘、走私、非法倒卖文物等 犯罪行为。同时,对追回来的文物进行修复展示,发挥其应有的作用。

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