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

Tang-Dynasty-sarcophagus 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):
Shaanxi History Museum:


本网讯:2010年6月17日14点30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7时30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。

该石椁于2005年被盗,流失海外达五年之久,重归故里实属不易。2006年元月,西安市公安局破获以杨彬为首的特大盗掘走私文物案,经审查,犯罪分子供 认2004年6月至2005年5月,对位于西安市长安区大兆乡庞留村的一座唐代墓葬实施盗掘,墓内石椁已被走私出境。为了抢救保护劫后余存的文物,经陕西 省文物局批准,陕西省考古研究院、陕西历史博物馆、长安区文物局联合组队对该墓进行了抢救性发掘。根据墓葬形制和出土文物,确认该墓为唐贞顺皇后敬陵。并 发掘出土石椁残件,为之后石椁的追索提供了重要的证据。
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2009年12月29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。
在文物追索、谈判、接收过程中,陕西省文物局赵荣局长、郭宪曾副局长及相关处室高度重视,多次召开协调会,部署、指导各项工作,使石椁的回归、安置和展示 有序进行。
2010年3月7日,石椁从美国弗吉尼亚州启运, 4月17日抵达中国广州。我馆文物征集处和西安市公安局刑侦局办理石椁入境、通关及查验等相关手续,并专程前往广州接运文物。于4月29日晚安全运抵我 馆。
石椁回归后,文物征集处负责组装石椁,在后勤处、保卫处、陈列部、资料室、宣教部、保管部、创优办等多个兄弟部门的密切配合下,经过一个多月的紧张施工, 石椁的保护、修复、安装及展示等工作顺利进行。在石椁安装期间,馆领导多次亲临工作现场指导安装工作、慰问工作人员,确保了安装工作的顺利完成。至此,被 盗出境,漂泊美国四年的唐贞顺皇后敬陵石椁,终于在我馆与西安警方的共同努力下回归故土。
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。
移交仪式结束后,西安市公安局刑侦局局长孙建华、副局长曹楠华、西安市公安局刑侦局韩清龙、陕西省文物鉴定专家呼林贵、我馆文物征集处师小群接受了媒体的 采访。(馆文物征集处)

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