Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
Forum 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 


Andrew Selkirk, editor, Current Archaeology magazine
"We should have an exchange of cultural goods around the world"
 real 28k

Mary Ann Kinseley, Michigan, USA
"A global artefact should be shared between global cultures"
 real 28k

Kriton Piperas, Athens, Greece
"It is a completely different matter if you have unique pieces"
 real 28k

Bernhard Fabricius, Hillerod, Denmark
"It is a question of finding the right balance"
 real 28k

Paul Yang, Singapore and James Waldron, London
On Chinese artefacts - "There aren't many academic disputes over ownership"
 real 28k

Chetan Pathak, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
"Certain artefacts are important to the country of origin"
 real 28k

John Lynch, Glasgow Museums
"Essentially we look at how a museum acquires the object"
 real 28k

Graham Bartram, Ruislip, UK
"The safest way to protect something is to keep it many places"
 real 28k

Gerald Stiebel, New York, USA
"I'd be very proud if something that meant a lot to me were elsewhere"
 real 28k

Dora Samuel, Berlin, Germany
"Stolen antiques should be returned to the original country"
 real 28k

Pat van der Veer, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
"If you're going to change the rules - change them now"
 real 28k

Friday, 12 May, 2000, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
Whose art is it anyway?

Whose art is it anyway? Should stolen art be returned? Where do you draw the line? And who is to decide?

This week Talking Point On Air looked at the thorny problem of who really owns national treasures. Robin Lustig presented the programme and Andrew Selkirk, editor of Current Archaeology magazine, was the studio guest.

Select the link below to watch Talking Point On Air

  • Read what you have said since the programme
  • Read your comments during the programme
  • Read what you said before we went ON AIR
    HAVE YOUR SAY Your comments since the programme:

    Many works of art will have been preserved better as a result of being carefully handled in a foreign museum - there is the theory that the Elgin marbles would not have remained in their present condition in Athens because of the high air pollution levels, and similarly, many treasures would have been lost or destroyed forever had they not been removed by outsiders. However, I think that objects taken in war, however long ago, should be returned to the country of their origin.
    Rachel, UK



    This is like trying to rewind history. Where would you stop?

    Graham Bartram, UK
    This is like trying to rewind history. Where would you stop? Would every Roman artefact in Britain have to be sent to Italy, along with every Roman or Greek statue? Many of these items were purchased legally from people who, at the time, had the right to sell them. Some of them were gifts! Would the French want back statues that were cast from the bronze of their guns, could the South African's claim back all their diamonds and gold? Should all Dutch paintings be sent back to Holland? It just wouldn't work.
    Graham Bartram, UK

    The colonial powers, as people like to call them, were the ones that preserved these treasures. Without them, most of these artefacts would have disappeared by neglect. The Parthenon was in shambles when Lord Elgin saved what he could from the ruinous hands of the Turks.
    In Egypt where I come from, most temples were defaced by the locals as idols or their stones recycled for modern buildings. Many of the objects including obelisks were given as gifts to countries and individuals. As an Egyptian and someone who has great interest in the history of Egypt and Greece, I am filled with pride to see galleries upon galleries of European and American museums filled by objects from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. There are still more objects left behind in these countries. Civilisation is not a civilisation if you do not share it with others.
    Saroufeem, USA

    The argument that stolen treasures are in safer hands of those who took them isn't good enough. The Tun Huang frescoes, statues and texts, for example, are the product of a once unique civilisation, created within the historical context of the time. That they sit in dusty boxes in the basements of European museums today only serves to trivialise such claims.
    More disappointingly, the academics who preside over these museums do not do justice to their profession, and their personal passion for art, by withholding these treasures from receiving the full meaning and glory due to them, that is to have them remain where their creators, and the culture that had bred them, had meant them to remain.
    Tze Shiung Ng, Malaysia



    To take an icon is to take away part of a culture

    Chao, Chinese American
    We are no more than the summation of our experiences. For our experiences define our identity. Therefore artefacts and icons are the definition of a culture. To take an icon is to take away part of a culture.
    Most comments support my stance. However, there are some Caucasians that make statements such as "China is not capable of maintaining artwork...". This angers me, for one thing maintenance is separate from right of ownership. For example, you may not have the ability to maintain and full appreciate a Ferrari, but you can crash it as you see fit, because it is yours. To assume such arrogant stance is reflective of racial ignorance. Many of you have never been to China, some of you still think is a bunch of hut and villages.
    Chao, Chinese American



    If it comes to the question of ownership any piece of art belongs to the creator.

    Simson Gnanam, USA
    If it comes to the question of ownership any piece of art belongs to the creator. And if we are talking about cultural transformation and civilised society, then it is not good for such a country like Briton to hold other countries creative work. I agree Britain was a colonial misadventurer of last century, but Britain has also brought in a morale system into the society. So it is apt time for Britain to show her value system by returning whatever she has taken from other countries. This will not only rise the countries standing in the world but also undo the colonial atrocities that unfortunately happened in the last century.
    Simson Gnanam, USA

    I see that a few of the progenies of erstwhile colonial meisters and their sycophants are working overtime to defend grand larceny of their forefathers by resorting to convoluted logic, how very typical of them. Nice going, now shut up and return the loot to their rightful owners.
    Mohan Marette, India and USA

    I find it ironic that some countries with limited or very little history are keeping historical works of art originating from countries with plenty of history related to Great Civilisations? If this is not "theft", what is it ?
    Yianni Kouzeleas, Philippines



    If Stonehenge was on display in another country how would we feel?

    Mark Sargeant, UK
    Two wrongs do not make a right. What has been looted from other countries in the past should be returned back. If Stonehenge was on display in another country how would we feel?
    Mark Sargeant, UK

    Why should a government claim possession of a piece of art, anyway? Surely the only people who should be openly protesting would be the descendants of the original artists. There is so much fuss over which country 'art' belongs to that the reasons for its creation are lost. It becomes nothing more than a childish commodity, and a tool for aggressive nationalism. If we're talking about relinquishing things that were gained through conquest, can the Native Americans have their country back, please?
    Jon Argles, UK

    How would the British feel is their crown jewels were being displayed in Beijing, or for that matter New Delhi? Much of the exhibits in British museums is stolen, a large part of it from India. When these robberies were conducted, there were no such pure motives of preserving the art for future generations. Additionally, it has been recently reported that many of these "well-preserved" specimens are in fact rotting away in warehouses under abysmal conditions, because there is simply no space to display them. This gives the lie to claims that these objects are better preserved in the museums of the west.
    Uday, USA

    The Chinese systematically looted and destroyed Tibet's art treasures after their invasion. This process started even before the Cultural Revolution. Many priceless items were sold through the Hong Kong markets. Within China itself countless works of art were destroyed. The Chinese should look at their own actions before pointing the finger at others.
    David Garcia, UK



    Perhaps my granddad should give back the cap, badge and cigarette case taken off a German POW?

    Greg (British Asian), UK
    History cannot be rewritten. This may be a un-PC thing to say but surely artefacts and art "obtained" by various nations are now part of their own cultural and imperial heritage? Therefore, who is to say what belongs to whom. Also, where would it end? Roman artefacts returned to Italy? The Crown Jewels dismantled and redistributed or perhaps my granddad should give back the cap, badge and cigarette case taken off a German POW?
    Greg (British Asian), UK

    It would be a sign of good will if stolen treasures were to be returned to their countries like India and China. To Britain they are just treasures to look at. But to their countries, the treasures stand for everything their people are, have been and will be.
    Vishal Patel, USA



    The art treasures should be returned so they can be public domain

    Serge Grynkewich, Philippines
    I saw the pre-auction "display" in Hong Kong, and "display" is exactly what it was. There were a few nice pieces of looted art and the rest was pure glitz - hyped by the auction house and the media.
    The art treasures should be returned so they can be public domain. The auction houses should go back to what they used to be - auction houses and not show off events just to generate cash!
    Serge Grynkewich, Philippines

    I am an art historian and as much as I value art objects and believe in the necessity of an art market, I think that if we don't provide some sort of system to prevent the market from controlling public information about art we will be in real danger of either devaluating art altogether or contributing to its commodification irrespective of local pride and local cultural identification with art. Art belongs first to those who made it; second to those who draw meaning from it and third to those who buy it for the sake of collecting. There should be ways to prevent dealers from taking control of all aspects of art making in order to save it for those who share in its meaning but don't have the means to acquire it on an international marketplace.
    Nora Taylor, USA

    The British have long enjoyed the stolen wealth from colonies. They should learn from other countries and return the memorable artefacts of the colonies. STOP pretending to be the noble guardian of the rare wealth. It stinks! What if the Taj Mahal was mobile? It might have been on the other side of Big Ben today!
    Sreekanth, USA

    Art and artefacts should be returned, but there should be an internationally recognised agreement that the condition of the return is based on the objects 'going to a good home', where they shall be given the correct attention and care.
    Wendy, UK



    It is unconscionable to hold the history of the Ethiopian people hostage by refusing to return to Ethiopian valuable historical artefacts.

    Ayele Bekerie, USA
    Artefacts and manuscripts looted by the British army from Ethiopia must be returned to Ethiopia. It is unconscionable to hold the history of the Ethiopian people hostage by refusing to return to Ethiopian valuable historical artefacts and documents. The rights of Ethiopians to their history ought to be respected. Return Meqdela's artefacts and manuscripts now.
    Ayele Bekerie, USA

    The world does seem a smaller place nowadays and I think these treasures do belong to the world. Britain has done a good job of looking after them and naming its origins. All the related countries should take part in running the museums that display them and share any benefits from it.
    Satish Sharma, New Zealand

    We should look at this problem for the sake of the future generation who are really in need of their cultural heritage as a symbol of the past identity of their nation. It would be much better if the artefacts which originally from China are brought back to China sooner or later.
    Joni Budianta, Indonesia

    Returning The Magdella's treasure to Ethiopia is the only right thing to do, because the artefacts belong to Ethiopia not to Britain. It is an Ethiopian history and I am sure that Ethiopians care more about their history.
    M Sebehato, Canada



    I pledge the UK to keep it safe till Ethiopia finds a true democratic government.

    Daniel, UK
    Even though the art belongs to Ethiopia, the present ruling government doesn't belong to Ethiopia, so my comment is that if the art goes to Ethiopia it will be lost forever. Just like those innocent Ethiopians lost because of the nonsense war and the forest burnt by the ruling governors. I pledge the UK to keep it safe till Ethiopia finds a true democratic government.
    Daniel, UK

    I agree with the Greeks wanting the Elgin marbles back (even though the Lord Elgin took them thinking he was saving them from the Ottomans). I personally think they are ugly and the room in the British museum could be used for something else. As for other cultural treasures...the claimants must be able to protect them for future generations. A lot of these treasures would not exist today if they hadn't been "looted".
    AM, Scotland

    If Germany can pay back what the Nazi's looted from the Jews, certainly the Colonial powers can do the same for their former victims?
    Kashif, England



    Return to who, where, why? If the works are Ancient Greek are the Greeks today the same people?

    Richard Namon, USA
    Return to who, where, why? If the works are Ancient Greek are the Greeks today the same people? I do not believe past locations are the key to current ownership. A family home is only that family's home while they live there. After they move or die it is no longer that family's home. The return of a family portrait to that home might be nice, but it is no more necessary than displaying it somewhere else. The same can be said for all art.
    Richard Namon, USA

    The only satisfactory solution is to:
    1. Establish the original ownership
    2. Obtain the original owners approval for the future display and preservation of the item/s to be decided by:
    3. An international body composed of representatives from all owner countries
    Frank Payne, Australia



    If countries need artwork of foreign countries in their museums, there should be a universal system to borrow them for a definite period.

    Arun George, India
    Returning stolen artwork to their respective countries is the first step towards undoing the atrocities committed by colonial nations such as Britain. If countries need artwork of foreign countries in their museums, there should be a universal system to borrow them for a definite period.
    Arun George, India

    Being in possession of stolen property is a serious crime, and that is exactly what the British Government has done for more than a century. Surprise us once in a while by doing the RIGHT thing and return Ethiopia's national treasure Mr Blair!!
    Yohannes, Ethiopia

    I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London recently. I saw the famous Tipoo's Tiger which had been damaged in the Second World War. Many works of Buddhist art from Central Asia was also damaged in Berlin and lost forever. In such a volatile world, where can works of art be safe?
    J. Narayan, Belgium

    Unesco should set the rules to determine a possible widely agreed solution to this problem.
    Amal Abu-Hasira, Australia



    It is sad to see in the new millennium, looters/victors are still acting in a barbaric manner.

    Jana Kho
    Some people think that art and history belong to the world, not to a particular nation. But this can only be achieved when the original owners of the artefacts willingly loan them to the various museums in the world. The original owners are right to claim back their art objects.
    Jana Kho

    All art belongs to the country that is the most powerful. Yesterday it was the UK. Today it is the USA. So I suggest that the UK send everything in the British Museum to the USA before they help themselves.
    Wen Sun, China

    It is very sad to read some of the comments of thinking people who assume to be civilised. Certain countries like Greece, Africa, India and China are not capable of managing their national inheritance including art.
    Ramsey, USA

    These are *STOLEN* art treasures from subjugated nations. Does the conscience of nations today allow them to justify LOOT? These treasures ought to be returned to the rightful owner-nations in a phased manner.
    Vineet Thapar, USA

    Why do Westerners ALWAYS try to find 'rational' arguments to explain why historical wrongs cannot and should not be set right? The treasures were stolen in the first place BECAUSE they were better off in museums of the Northern Hemisphere!
    Enrique Mba Ondo, Equatorial Guinea



    [Can] the Indian Government be trusted to look after the treasures properly?

    Palm, UK
    The Indian Government are pushing for the Kohinoor diamond to be sent to a temple in Orrissa. The diamond was stolen from the Punjab and should logically belong at the Golden Temple. This raises the question of whether the Indian Government can be trusted to look after the treasures properly. It may be better to keep them in England and acknowledge ownership of a foreign power like Britain rather than have them stolen once more.
    Palm, UK

    If Buckingham Palace were dismantled and shipped of to the USA, what do you think the opinion of the UK would be? Send the Elgin Marbles back to Greece.
    Andrew Davis, UK in USA

    Returning it is the only right thing to do. It will be a sign of goodwill to the people once colonised by the European powers. It has more significance to the people of Ethiopia than Britain. If it was taken from a European country, I am sure it would have been returned by now.
    Eskias Besrat, Canada

    Do all the countries that are desperately holding on to other peoples arts and crafts have none of their own to display? Throughout history the greatest argument for Western subjugation of other nations has been their lack of 'civilisation' and 'savagery'. Now hundreds of years later those artefacts are the only things worth showing in museums all around the world.
    Danlami Gomwalk, Nigerian in USA

    Return to the top of the page


    Your comments during the programme:

    I would thank Britain for looking after our treasures, and protecting it but we want it back now. You are earning a lot of money from tourism by keeping these artefacts.
    Dora Samuel, Berlin, Germany (Indian)

    I chair a working group on repatriation for Glasgow museums. We returned a Sioux ghost dance shirt to South Dakota on the basis of certain criteria. We looked at how the museum acquired the item and the spiritual significance of it to the people who wanted it. We checked their status and how they would look after it.
    John Lynch, Glasgow, UK

    Cultural artefacts were local, then became national and are now global.
    Mary Ann Kinseley, Michigan, USA

    I work as a registered tour guide in museums. When I saw the Elgin marbles in London it stimulated me to go to Athens. Works of art should be declared to be the property of where they came from but allowed to be on permanent loan to wherever they are.
    Antonia Lanzad Ayea, Florence, Italy

    Robbery is robbery. It's a matter of fact that the Elgin marbles were stolen. Why should we have to go to New York or London to see them?
    Halbi Shalbi, Greece (Yemen)

    There are many things to see in Athens. There are better works of art of Greek origin. Art was transported in ancient times. The whole of Northern Africa and Turkey are full of Greek artefacts.
    Elma Kratzer, Austria



    The Temple of the Parthenon is incomplete without those sculptures [the Elgin marbles]

    Kriton Piperas, Athens, Greece
    The Parthenon sculptures are unique. The Temple of the Parthenon is incomplete without those sculptures. We're building a new museum for the sculptures to back into. Britain could make replicas and send the originals back. Greece was occupied at the time by the Ottoman empire and the Greek government did not authorise their sale.
    Kriton Piperas, Athens, Greece

    Many Countries, today, bear very little resemblance geographically and politically to what they once were. Therefore I think that it would be a difficult, if not impossible task to determine who are the rightful owners of certain artefacts. However I do not believe, that in this current age, that items of artistic and archaeological significance should be removed or traded from their current places. What's past is past, but we can change the future.
    Pat van der Veer, British in Canada

    It's very difficulty for Chinese and Indian people to travel to the west to see items from their own history.
    Paul Yang, Singapore

    Wrongs have been done and it's difficult to right these wrongs. During the cultural revolution in the 1960s the Chinese destroyed many of their temples, books and artefacts. The point is simply that China has VERY FEW national treasures left.
    James Waldron, London, England

    One problem is if there is a war, or cultural revolution or disaster in one place then it is lost forever.
    Graham Bartram, Ruislip, UK

    Return to the top of the page


    Your comments before we went ON AIR:

    This is an absurd question. Ethiopian artefacts reflect Ethiopian history and belong to Ethiopians. Thank you Britain for keeping (after looting) our treasures. Now we want them back and it is none of your business whether we are capable of maintaining them or not. It is our sovereign right to do whatever we wish with our arts.
    Alemayehu, Ethiopia



    I'm surprised about the Indian claim on Kohinoor. Its real inheritors are the Iranians.

    Syed Fawad Haider, USA
    When the British hand a country to its natives they have to return every single item which they took by force. I'm surprised about the Indian claim on Kohinoor. Its real inheritors are the Iranians. If you go by history it shows that the diamond came to the subcontinent from Iran after Nadir Shah's regime.
    Syed Fawad Haider, USA

    The treasures should be returned as soon as possible to their rightful countries. Most of the disputed treasures were "acquired" during colonial occupations and were not given as gifts. The Kohinoor is a prime example - accepted as a "gift" from a ten year old Sikh Maharajah. This diamond represents a major part of the Sikh religon and culture and should be returned to Amritsar where it belongs.
    Nav Sehmi, Switzerland



    Human heritage needs an international organisation to free it from legacies of the past, colonial or otherwise.

    Muhsin Alabbas, USA
    Who made the British the safe keeper of the world's artefacts? Ethiopia's treasures belong in Ethiopia. To those of you who think some countries are not capable of preserving their own history, shame on you and next time get your facts right.
    Abiye Abebe, Ethiopia

    Not every art piece removed from the place where it was born should be returned: it would wreak havoc with the world's museums and what's more I think that an Italian painting in Los Angeles (say) is a very good ambassador. But the Parthenon Marbles are another matter: they are a very important part of a monument that is still standing after more than 2400 years. I wonder what the British public would feel if some foreign ambassador had managed to take away, say, some royal tombs from Westminster and another country was now displaying them in its national museum. Wouldn't they want to have them back in the Abbey?
    Paolo Rossi, Italy

    Is it not surprising that a people who currently occupy one country should complain about the actions of another occupying nation? The Chinese Empire currently extends over many different subject races including Tibet. The Indian Empire currently extends over many different subject races from the far north in Kashmir to the far south in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It would be interesting to learn from these complaining peoples what they are currently taking from their subject people.
    Rashid Al Hamra, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

    I wonder what the western nations would say if this happened to them? I don't think they would sit back and watch their property looted. I think they would go to great lengths to have their national treasures back.
    Wondy, Ethiopia

    Treasures of historical significance should remain available to the public. If the country of origin is adequately capable of taking care of the treasures, it must be recognised as the party of original right and given the opportunity to take care of them. Human heritage needs an international organisation to free it from legacies of the past, colonial or otherwise. At this time in history I do not think all nations are ready for that yet. Selling treasures to private collectors complicates the issue to the max.
    Muhsin Alabbas, USA



    It is a simple common sense, for example, during the occupation of France, any treasure that was withheld by the Germans were returned to the French.

    Addis Tesfaye, USA
    In any matter, any nations acquiring treasures through occupation or invasion should be obliged to return the item which are under their control. Regarding Maqdella's treasures, without any objection from the government of UK, these priceless treasures need to be returned to their country of origin i.e., Ethiopia. It is a simple common sense, for example, during the occupation of France, any treasure that was withheld by the Germans were returned to the French. The same theory would apply to the Government of UK to return the treasures that were illegally taken.
    Addis Tesfaye, USA

    All the people of European ancestry believe China has no right. You are wrong! Britain and the US should return all of their "stolen" artefacts to Africa, India, and China, etc. Europe's only claim to fame is that they have gone to every continent in the world conquered it, looted it, claimed it for themselves, and killed or enslaved all the native peoples living there.
    Alexander, USA

    There is always a balance between what is eligible for return and what is not. We can not argue that all the items should be returned to their place of origin simply because that is not feasible. There is though a strong argument about items that are of high national importance. The Elgin (Parthenon) marbles have indeed a big national importance to the Greeks as they are part of the greatest monument survived from their ancient civilisation. For the rest of the items displayed around the world, I do agree that they should stay were they are. At least they will have something to display.
    Nicos, UK

    I think stolen art should be returned to the country of origin no matter what. I believe all artefacts should be returned to its country of origin.
    Rasol Hadwi, Yemen



    It is like having at your home things that belonged to your grandfather. But what if your grandfather with his old stubborn mind wants his things BACK?

    George Fotiou, Greece
    It is true that ancient treasures are well kept in the British Museum. It is a very interesting fact that a tourist visiting a museum called British expects to admire British culture, civilisation, art and history. I would like to thank British authorities for claiming that Britain's roots trace back to ancient Greece! It is like having at your home things that belonged to your grandfather. But what if your grandfather with his old stubborn mind wants his things BACK?
    George Fotiou, Greece

    When Lord Elgin took a part of the Parthenon in his luggage, the Greeks where under Turkish rule and couldn't possibly object his decision. Did he take the Elgins to protect them? Highly unlikely, as there where so many more important treasures to salvage. Are the British right to keep them? Come on! Don't tell me that Greece, a EU country where archaeology is practically a religion can't take good care of a few marbles...
    Gabriel Logan, Canada

    It is evident that people protest only when their own interests are affected. How do you compare a Ming vase to the thousands of destroyed Tibetan monasteries? At least the people who took the vase had the sense to keep it in good condition.
    Paul Rozario, Singapore

    National treasures are as important to world history as they are to national history and need to be protected. There was a recent report that a poor African country (I can't remember which) has been displaying some documents and letters relating to the explorer Dr Livingstone. Owing to the poor condition in which they have been kept they have disintegrated and are now lost forever. If a country does not have the capacity to look after its treasures they should be held in trust by a country that can for the benefit of the whole world.
    Duncan, UK

    If other countries want their treasures and heritage back then they should be obliged to retrieve them under the same circumstances that they lost them.
    James, England



    Throughout the span of history, tribes and (later) nations have taken the spoils of their conquests. A

    Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK
    Throughout the span of history, tribes and (later) nations have taken the spoils of their conquests. All peoples have done this. Just because our legal systems and social conscience, here in the West, have evolved to the point where we now know it is wrong to do this going forward, there is no need to rewrite history...especially when the complainers still participate in the kind of behaviour they criticise us for! I don't hear China apologising for its behaviour in Tibet or India taking a saner and more mature approach to Kashmir.
    Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

    There can be no ideal solution for this. Probably the return of particularly significant relics that were clearly stolen should be negotiated. However, the country seeking the return of stolen treasures has the responsibility to demonstrate that it can look after the treasures as well as the country where they are currently kept. In the case of China, while there are notable exceptions, the management of cultural relics is still poor, black market selling and smuggling of art and other relics (often with the connivance of local government officials) is common, and forgery is rampant. China should get at least some of the more important relics back, but it has some work to do first.
    David Pattinson, New Zealand



    Museums would be very dull places if they could only display works that were made in their own countries or ethnic areas.

    Matt Simon, USA
    Britain ruled on India for over 150 years and during that time STOLE (certainly not with consent of owners) many invaluable art collection. India has every right to demand the return of those valuables, which should have been returned by Britain when it left. And, what do these people know about conditions, and extent of national museums in India, those who say that these artefacts should stay in western countries. Don't the current generations in India have a right to be able to see their heritage?
    Parag Muley, USA

    Museums would be very dull places if they could only display works that were made in their own countries or ethnic areas. What is most important is that art is displayed publicly, not hoarded in private collections.
    Matt Simon, USA

    You must look at this issue from the Chinese perspective in order to understand their indignation. I am not talking about the Chinese government. I am talking about the anger that many Chinese people feel toward Sotheby's auctioneers. Over one hundred years ago, the British government took advantage of a nation that was technologically backward and internally unstable. It forced the Chinese government to allow Britain to export opium; burned and ransacked the Imperial Summer Palace (the ruins are still lying outside of Beijing); imposed a number of unequal treaties onto a people that was already suffering tremendously. Many Chinese people became addicted to opium. Lives were destroyed. Of course, after so long, it is difficult to say whether a particular treasure was in fact stolen. Nevertheless, please do look at it from the Chinese perspective, there is a reason behind their indignation.
    Cathleen Xue, USA

    So a distinction is being made about 'looted' Nazi art and that looted by colonial European powers. Why? If Britain requires foreign art to enhance its museums, I would suggest they can go to Sotheby's and pay the market price. As for the rest of the looted art especially from "uncivilised third world countries", now is the perfect time to return it to their rightful owners.
    Ashesh, USA

    I think other countries' national heritage should be returned. At a time when Europe is returning Jewish assets and stolen art work, it would be double standards to deny other people what is rightfully theirs. It is only fair that the same fair standard apply across the board.
    Bob, USA

    I think the crux of this matter is whether the artefact had and continues to have religious or spiritual significance to the people it was removed from. If it has then it should be returned. If not, then let it stay where it is.
    PG, USA

    It's nice to see China showing concern about rightful ownership. Perhaps the Chinese government will now return Tibet to the Tibetans.
    Ed Bayley, USA



    It's nice to see China showing concern about rightful ownership. Perhaps the Chinese government will now return Tibet to the Tibetans.

    Ed Bayley, USA
    Even to this day the British are raking in millions by selling the treasures they looted from their colonies. The British have thus earned the reputation of being the greatest robbers of all time.
    Ramanan Pitchumani, Netherlands

    Aren't there double standards here? Do most of the people opposing the return of historical treasures stolen from their rightful owners also oppose the return of treasures looted by the Nazis from the Jews during World War Two? Or is it too politically incorrect for them to speak up about it? The pressure on several Nazi-era governments and companies to provide compensation is very high indeed. Why do other governments think they are immune to the same principles? Each claim deserves to be decided on its own merit. Not all treasures are demanded back, but those that are should be given due consideration.
    Alekh Bhurke, USA

    Theft is theft. Morally and legally whatever is taken should be returned. There is no two ways about it.
    David Lin, Canada



    What I find funny is the Indians crying about the Kohinoor ! They looted it a century earlier from Afghanistan

    Zafar Nadeem, England
    What I find funny is the Indians crying about the Kohinoor ! They looted it a century earlier from Afghanistan, so they were never in the so-called rightful position of selling it or giving it away! Having said that I think the same 'law' should be applied to all, which would mean treasures being returned on merit rather than simply saying this country is friend or this country is foe !
    Zafar Nadeem, England

    Items taken after battle by the victor is war booty. It is the victor's right.
    Waqar, UK

    I think that each item should be considered for return on a case by case approach rather than a wholesale, PC-driven, emptying of museums. There is a case for the Elgin marbles to be returned as Greece can look after them as well as we can.
    Douglas McLellan, Scotland



    What if China, the imperialist victor, had auctioned off treasures stolen from Buckingham Palace in London with the help of Sotheby's?

    Leroy Han, Canada
    It is truly revealing to read the comments on this topic: all the messages signed by Anglo-Saxon names voiced opposition to China's protest. What if China, the imperialist victor, had auctioned off treasures stolen from Buckingham Palace in London with the help of Sotheby's? Would they still say "let history be history and forget about it?" Let's be honest: the only reason why Sotheby's or anyone in Europe think they can get away with auctioning off looted Chinese art is because China has not filed lawsuits demanding the return of the looted property, unlike the families of Holocaust survivors, who demanded and lobbied for the return of looted art by the Nazis.
    Leroy Han, canada

    If the items in question are "plundered" items, then they should be returned. Otherwise the nations would be acting like looters. Looting and plundering and pillaging are not part of modern society. The US returned the Hungarian crown after many years. If the items are plundered -- such as many treasures originating from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that today sit in vaults in Moscow , they should be returned.
    Mel Huang, Estonia/US



    I see only one problem. How do you prove what was given, what was purchased and what was stolen?

    Francesca, UK
    I think that nation states have every right to demand a return of their cultural heritage. It is only too easy to say that what is done should be forgotten. No one is trying to rewrite history. It is accepted fact that the British ruled India and gained a vast amount of wealth from that association. A large part of western prosperity, especially British, has been underwritten by unfair trading advantages and plain plundering of its erstwhile colonies. I am of the firm belief that it is only right and proper to return property that was stolen from its rightful owners.
    Rohit Dhawan, UK

    I see only one problem. How do you prove what was given, what was purchased and what was stolen?
    Francesca, UK

    Nepal has lost a lot of its stone, metal, wood and paper art to the western world. Most of them have been stolen and sold to foreigners to be eventually put in foreign museums or private collections. Many stone and metal sculptures that were considered and revered as god by many Nepalese have been taken away from their niches and put in foreign museums as examples of Nepali art. This is a sadistic act being committed by the western world - depriving millions of their symbol of reverence.
    Prasanna, Nepal

    Art and history belong to the world, not one particular nation. The emerging nations have found that they can use political correctness and history to beat the developed nations over the head. Enough is enough, stop the insanity.
    Richard T. Ketchum, USA



    Art and history belong to the world, not one particular nation.

    Richard T. Ketchum, USA
    If Britain gave back everything of value that other countries wanted returned then Buckingham Palace would be reduced to an empty warehouse.
    Gillian, UK

    I believe, in principle, that a country's national treasures should belong to (and in) that country. Having said that, sometimes the country of origin does not possess the necessary expertise (maybe due to lack of wealth) to best preserve some artefacts for future generations. For example, many treasures in the Egyptian Museum are being "restored" so poorly that these items will be lost to history.
    Nick, UK

    I would not support returning any of the artefacts brought from any of the originating countries before the Second World War. The reason for not supporting the return of those things is that in their current locations they are much safer and available for many more people who might be interested in arts and culture. This way they promote the originating country and its history far better than being returned there as single item or items.
    Mikko Toivonen, Finland

    A distinction must be made between art captured during war, by one nation/faction from another, and the altogether different case of tyrannical regimes who steal art and other belongings from innocent citizens. Victims of Nazi art thefts should of course be given back their property. I do, however, think it would be a very nice gesture if the rightful owner or his descendants allowed the work to be displayed in a gallery for the general public, but this should not be an obligation.
    PG, UK



    It' shameful that auction houses sell off national treasures

    Ruchit Mehta, India
    During the period of colonisation, many countries like India, China, etc have lost a lot of valuable and treasured national artefacts. It' shameful that auction houses sell off national treasures, and the governments of countries like the U.K. which houses some of the worlds finest treasures keeps quiet. Indian's have a right of demanding back the Kohinoor diamond, and many other treasures. People of the world forget that although the British have kept it for 150 years, the diamond was a part of India's treasures for centuries before that.
    Ruchit Mehta, India

    All these calls for the return of works of art are quite ridiculous. You can't change history. If you follow this to its logical conclusion it would lead to the demise of all the major museums and galleries of the world. China has no moral claim until it gives back Tibet which it stole only 50 years ago.
    John, UK

    The current trend is to rewrite history into a politically correct format. What is done is done. Mankind would best be served to proceed with forward vision thereby avoiding a repetition of the mistakes learned from the lessons of history.
    Francis de Percy, USA

    For China, which has invaded Tibet and has the worst record of human oppression in the world, to talk about 'looted' art is of course patent nonsense. This silly whining by China, India, Greece and others, if taken to its ultimate conclusion, would mean museums could only have their own national art and artefacts in their collection. How ridiculous is that?
    Peter Kohler, USA

    Return to the top of the page


    Send us your comments:

    Name:

    Your E-mail Address:

    Country:

    Your Phone Number: (if you wish to take part in the programme; your number will not appear online)

    Your comments:

    Disclaimer: The BBC will use as many of your questions as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
  • Search BBC News Online

    Advanced search options
    Launch console
    BBC RADIO NEWS
    BBC ONE TV NEWS
    WORLD NEWS SUMMARY
    PROGRAMMES GUIDE
    See also:

    02 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
    'Looted' Chinese treasures auctioned
    26 Apr 00 | South Asia
    Indian MPs demand Kohinoor's return
    Internet links:


    The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


    Links to other Talking Point stories