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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 12:10 GMT
China calls for return of antiquities
Experts at a museum in China's Hunan province examine a newly-unearthed mummy dating from the Han dynasty
Chinese experts say overseas museums have broken a UN pact
China has demanded the return of cultural relics housed in overseas museums - including antiquities plundered during war.

Experts said they were outraged that curators in Europe and the US had refused their request to send back lost artefacts.

It is estimated that about a million Chinese treasures are kept in more than 200 museums in 47 countries.

China's demands echo those of Greece in claiming the Elgin Marbles from Britain, and Nigeria's call for the return of the Benin bronzes from London and Berlin.

A terracotta soldier of China's First Emperor on display at the British Museum
A group has been set up in China to rescue cultural relics
Other countries that have claimed cultural losses include Egypt, India, Iraq, Libya and Syria.

China claims the offending museums have breached a pact by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Xinhua news agency said.

A 1970 UNESCO convention calls for the return of antiquities and works of art to their countries of origin.

But it does not apply to artefacts or objects taken to other countries before 1970.

Li Xueqin, director of the study centre on ancient culture under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said: "Culture is the spirit of a nation and relics are the purveyors of culture.

Benin bronze at the British Museum
Nigeria is calling for the Benin bronzes to be returned
"It's absolutely not ultra-nationalism and, on the contrary, we are just protecting our rights."< P>

Among the museums that refused China's request were the Louvre in Paris, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Prado in Madrid.

They claim that acquiring objects in past eras cannot be seen in the same light as the modern-day illegal trade in antiquities.

An civil group has been formed in China to raise money to retrieve and rescue cultural relics.

Founded in October, it is known as the Lost Cultural Relics Recovery Programme of the China Foundation for the Development of Folklore Culture.

Chinese scholar Wang Shixiang said the nation would unite with other countries facing similar difficulties.

"We shall join hands with them in retrieving lost artefacts through the law instead of money, since money can only stimulate illegal relics dealing," he said.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Lawrence Pollard
"China has no equivalent to the Western concept of the universal public museum"
See also:

27 Mar 02 | Arts
04 Jul 02 | Scotland
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