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Sunday, 8 October, 2000, 13:16 GMT 14:16 UK
Rare Chinese books theft from Harvard
New Account of Tales of the World in eight chapters (FBI website)
The FBI says this Ming dynasty woodblock was stolen
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has confirmed that it is trying to recover dozens of ancient Chinese books and scrolls which were stolen earlier this year from Harvard University.

When books like this are taken, the break in the collection has a far-reaching impact on scholarship

Nancy Cline, Harvard librarian
Historians say that the 43 missing works, which span more than a thousand years, are priceless.

Nancy Cline, head librarian of Harvard College, said: "It's a significant loss for researchers around the world."

She said the Harvard-Yenching library's collection of books in Chinese, Korean and Japanese, the largest outside Asia, was severely damaged by the theft.

Poetry and war

"When books like this are taken, the break in the collection has a far-reaching impact on scholarship," Ms Cline said. "Its effect is worldwide."

The Expanded Compendium of Content for Composing Poetry dated 1354 (FBI website)
A 14th century poetry guide was also taken
The loss of the manuscripts was discovered in March by a rare book specialist at the library.

The FBI was promptly informed but neither it nor the library publicly acknowledged the theft.

In the summer, the missing works were registered on the Stolen Art File, an FBI website intended to warn prospective buyers that the works were stolen.

It has now been classified by the FBI as a "major investigation".

Pictures posted on the site show columns of tight calligraphy written by philosophers, poets and statesmen on a variety of subjects ranging from poetry to military leadership.

Security versus research

Ms Cline said that the library was now trying to improve security at all its libraries.

Essentials of Military Leadership (FBI website)
Also lost: A 1522 treatise on military leadership
The problem is that greater security is liable to hamper research, the primary purpose of the library.

Reports say that two previous collections of rare books have been stolen from reading rooms of Harvard University libraries over the past decade.

In both cases, most of the books are said to have been recovered.

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See also:

05 Oct 00 | Africa
Mandela museum medals mystery
10 Apr 00 | Europe
Website traces war booty
30 Sep 98 | Europe
French paintings recovered
06 Jul 98 | Europe
Artful thieves 'steal to order'
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