Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Chinese Military Industrial Complex's Taste for Ancient Art

The Financial Times has profiled the efforts of a Chinese arms manufacturer associated with the People Liberation Army to repatriate what the Chinese regard as stolen art. See

According to the article,

America might have its vaunted military-industrial complex but China, fast becoming the world’s other great power, has its own version: a state-funded military-cultural complex charged with repatriating antiquities lost to foreign looters and returning them to mainland China.

At the heart of this vast and shadowy operation is Beijing-based Poly Culture and Arts, a pleasant-sounding body ultimately controlled by the People’s Liberation Army, the world’s largest military force by numbers and China’s leading arms dealer.

Poly Culture is a curious beast. Its stated aim – beating swords into ploughshares – is laudable and straightforward. A loosely controlled army of agents trawl global galleries and auction houses hunting for specific cultural items. Three thousand-year-old bronzes are highly sought after, as are stone Buddhist sculptures from the sixth, seventh and eighth centuries AD – a high point in Chinese civilisation.

During the State Department's deliberations over China's request for import restrictions, however, it was also suggested that Poly Culture and Arts used its influence to procure high quality archaeological objects from within China itself. It would be interesting to see the Financial Times investigating these allegations as well, but I doubt that will happen anytime soon. The suspicion that China's cultural heritage laws are not applied equally to all is simply not a topic that apologists for China seem at all anxious to discuss openly.

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