There were five (5) speakers: (1) Peter Tompa (Global Heritage Alliance (GHA)/International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN)/Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG)); (2) Kate FitzGibbon (Committee for Cultural Policy (CCP)); (3) Josh Knerly (Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD)); (4) Alex Nyerges (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA)); and (5) Tess Davis (Antiquities Coalition).
Peter Tompa spoke on behalf of GHA, CCP, IAPN and PNG. He indicated these groups had serious concerns about the short public comment period and the fact that the Ecuador’s proposal sought import restrictions on “Colonial and republican period coins; medallions more than 50 years old …manuscripts more than 50 years old; and certain works by modern artists.” None of these materials may be restricted under the terms of the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) because they do not meet the definitions for archaeological or ethnological objects. Archaeological objects must be at least 250 years old and be normally found in the ground. Ethnological objects must be the products of tribal or non-industrial societies. The Legislative History makes clear that Congress understood the term “ethnological” to only encompass what is considered “primitive” or “tribal” art, and not any object which is repetitive in character.
These limitations on archaeological and ethnological material should preclude restrictions being placed on coins and medallions. While the State Department has—over the objections of the numismatic community and prior precedent—placed import restrictions on ancient and other early coins, the Spanish Colonial and Republican era coins at issue here cannot lawfully be restricted because they are neither archaeological nor ethnological in character. More than that, however, they are as much a part of US culture as they are of Ecuadorian culture. Large swaths of what is now the US was formally part of Spain’s Empire and even the United States itself—due to the shortages of hard currency at the time—used such coins as legal tender until 1857. Indeed, such coins were so popular that the term “two bits” entered into our language as meaning 25 cents. Moreover, references to “pieces of eight” and “gold doubloons” abound in our storytelling, including Melville’s Moby Dick and countless yarns about pirate treasure.
Before recommending a MOU, CPAC must also consider what self-help measures Ecuador has undertaken, including the funding Ecuador has devoted to cultural heritage protection. At least one recent academic work has questioned Ecuador’s commitment in this area.
Josh Knerly spoke on behalf of AAMD. AAMD may have been in a position to support the MOU, but the short time span made impossible to poll members. Knerly echoed Tompa’s concerns about import restrictions being misapplied to objects that are neither archaeological nor ethnological in character.
Chairman Sabloff indicates that staff ran into unexpected difficulties in getting out the notice for the CPAC meeting, and that in the future the Committee will try to do better.
Rosemary Joyce asked about AAMD’s generic recommendations. Knerly indicated that AAMD typically asks for long term loans, low loan fees and immunity from seizure laws.
In response to a question from Nancy Wilkie, Knerly indicated he did not know if any Ecuadorian artifacts were on display in US museums. During the review of the China MOU, he later stated that he had learned that at least one AAMD member museum displays Ecuadorian artifacts.
Peter Tompa spoke on behalf of IAPN and PNG. IAPN and PNG are all for Chinese collecting, but the reality of a huge, largely open internal Chinese market in common antiquities like pottery and coins, raises serious questions about the point of import restrictions imposed on American collectors. This is especially problematical because the most successful Chinese antiquities sales outlets are controlled by insiders associated with the Chinese Government.
There is also the issue of Chinese obligations under the current MOU. First, China was supposed to make it easier to legally export artifacts, but that provision was drastically limited in the 2014 renewal to Chinese objects imported into China for re-export and there is no indication China has even complied with this weaker provision. Of course, few rules apply to the free ports of Hong Kong and Macao. China was also initially supposed to clamp down on them, but it has not. Instead, artifacts leaving these ports can still be re-imported into the PRC no questions asked.
Even more importantly for US coin collectors is the issue of Chinese fakes of historic US coins. Chinese businesses licensed by the Chinese Government are counterfeiting untold thousands of fake historic US mint coins which are then being introduced into the US numismatic market.
Summing up, Tompa stated that the MOU with China should be suspended because it is doing nothing to actually protect Chinese archaeological sites. At a minimum, Chinese cash coins, which exist in the billions and which are widely collected in China itself, should be delisted.
Lothar von Falkenhausen made a statement that what we know about Chinese coins comes from archaeology. Tompa disputed this claim noting that much information has come from documentation and observation of the types of cash coins found in 1000 coin strings that were used for trade through the early part of the 20th century.
Nancy Wilkie states it is not CPAC’s concern that China is counterfeiting US Coins. Tompa states this is a matter of comity and falls broadly under cultural exchange. Tompa states this should be addressed in Art. II of the agreement, the part that requires undertakings by the Chinese.
Kate FitzGibbon spoke for CCP and GHA. She stated the U.S. Senate recently condemned China’s repression of Tibet, including its cultural heritage. She then stated there is no justification whatsoever for renewing the China MOU under the CPIA.
- China has a billion-dollar annual internal market in art of all periods that includes the same kinds of antiques barred from US import.
- China has more than adequate internal enforcement resources; its government does not need the US to be a distant, international policeman.
- Past MOUs barring import of Chinese art have had no discernable effect on looting in China.
- The United States is no longer a primary market nation; it has had a net outflow of Chinese art for the last decade. Thousands of US-owned antique objects have left the US – destined for China.
According to a comprehensive study by Artnet and the China Association of Auctioneers, after the enactment of the original MOU with the United States in 2009, the auction market for art and antiques in mainland China experienced 500% growth between 2009 and 2011. In 2011, the Chinese auction market surpassed all other countries in the world.
Even in 2014, the year after the MOU’s first renewal, the fastest growing import into China was art, antiques, and collector items, which increased at a staggering 2281% rate.
Despite its pro-archaeological rhetoric, nothing in Chinese law prohibits the import of all objects predating the end of the Tang Dynasty, as the MOU now does in the US. Nor does Chinese law prohibit the trade or import of monumental sculpture or wall art more than 250 years old ‑ the very objects banned under the China-United States MOU.
The CCP asked ArtNet, an independent art market research network, to analyze the largest auction sales. In 2016, the total sales of Chinese art at the top ten auction houses worldwide were $103 million dollars. Of this total, $58 million was sold at four auction houses in Hong Kong, and $46 million in six auction houses in Beijing and Hangzhou in mainland China. The only US auction house to make it into the top ten globally that year was Sotheby’s New York, with only 6% of total market share.
In the United States, the most recent high-value sales are from long-held and foreign collections. A brief 2017 spike in U.S. sales of Chinese art resulted from a single record-breaking sale at Christie’s of a museum collection. Even there, some of the largest buyers were Chinese
There is an obvious contradiction between the Department of State’s designation of China’s government as systemically violating international norms of cultural tolerance, and the repeated renewal of US-China agreements on cultural property that grant China’s government absolute control over the same cultural heritage that it has sought to destroy.
Jim Willis asked if the State Department should renew restrictions that touched on Tibetan art. Kate FitzGibbon said we should not repatriate Tibetan art to China.
Josh Knerly stated that AAMD was also hampered by the short time frame allowed in responding to the China MOU. While AAMD museums have enjoyed good cooperation with Chinese museums, there has been very little progress in the last 5 years on issues related to the length of loans and legislation granting immunity for such loans.
Karol Wight indicated that her museum, the Corning Glass Museum, was getting good cooperation from China. She asked Knerly about access for scholars. He stated such access has had problems at times. In at least one example, a scholar did not learn whether they could examine objects before they actually arrived at the Chinese institution in question.
Alex Nyerges indicated that the VMFA has received good cooperation with Chinese museums with which VMFA has had its own MOUs. He echoed Knerly’s concern about the length of loans. Such loans should be for multiple years so that artifacts may travel to other venues so the exhibit is cost effective. China should also send higher graded antiquities that can be the centerpiece of exhibits.
These cultural exchanges have been two way. Recently, the VMFA sent an exhibit of Fabergé eggs to the Palace Museum in Beijing.
In response to a question from Nancy Wilkie, Nyerges has said that seizures of foreign exhibits in China has not been a concern. He also indicates that the security at the museums VMFA has MOUs with has been excellent. Other AAMD member museums such as Cleveland, the Met, and Indianapolis also have had very positive experiences with Chinese museums.
Tess Davis states China has met all the requirements for a renewal. The first determination is met. China has 760,000 archaeological sites that remain in jeopardy of looting.
The second determination relating to self-help is met. China is making its best efforts to protect these sites. There are export controls on artifacts. Chinese cultural officials recently met with judicial officials to underscore the need to punish looters.
The third determination regarding a concerted international response is met. More countries have joined the UNESCO Convention. Others now have strong anti-looting legislation favoring repatriation.
The MOU has promoted culture exchange. The Terracotta warrior exhibit is a great example. Davis believes protecting cultural heritage is a human rights issue.
Jim Willis asked how we can enter into an agreement that recognizes the Chinese government’s rights to Tibet’s culture. Davis stated by restricting imports of Tibetan heritage in the US, we are helping to protect it for a future time when Tibet is hopefully free.