Thursday, June 25, 1998 Published at 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
Plundering China's heritage
British customs intercepted 3,000 pieces in one shipment
As the global trade in smuggled Chinese archaeological treasures grows, China is seeking international help to stem the flow of priceless relics disappearing abroad.
During his visit to China, the US President, Bill Clinton, will view the army of terracotta warriors at Xian.
Across the country cultural relics are being legally or illegally unearthed, dusted off and sold to unscrupulous dealers.
Despite laws that prohibit the export of objects aged 100 years and older, a market in ancient artefacts is thriving inside China.
This means that the authorities and historians face huge problems safeguarding artefacts that may throw light on how people have lived in China for thousands of years.
According to the Xinhua news agency, customs officers in China uncovered 2,322 cases of smuggling in the first five months of 1998 - up nearly 10% over the corresponding period of last year.
The captured contraband included 986 ancient relics as well as drugs, pornography and counterfeit money.
Lyndel Prott, a member of the cultural division of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), says that seizure illustrated the harm that smuggling can do.
"A lot of damage had been done to that material," she said.
"Even more serious was the loss of context. We don't know where they came from, which province, which ancient burial site."
Mrs Prott was one of the international experts recently invited by China to its first ever conference devoted to finding ways to combat the illegal trade.
The Chinese authorities hope that initiatives like this will lead to greater international cooperation and will make life more difficult for the smugglers.