The New York Times reports that a "Chinese Treasure Hunting Team" has descended on American Museums looking for stolen art. See http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/17/world/asia/17china.html?_r=2&hp
China had previously announced this high profile effort to catalogue and repatriate artifacts from the Old Summer Palace as the 150th anniversary of its destruction approaches. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/11/china-goes-treasure-hunting.html
The nationalistic impulses behind the project should be clear:
Emboldened by newfound wealth, China has been on a noisy campaign to reclaim relics that disappeared during its so-called century of humiliation, the period between 1842 and 1945 when foreign powers subjugated China through military incursions and onerous treaties.
But the quest, fueled by national pride, has been quixotic, provoking fear at institutions overseas but in the end amounting to little more than a public relations show aimed at audiences back home.
Stoked by populist sentiment but carefully managed by the Communist Party, the drive to reclaim lost cultural property has so far been halting. While officials privately acknowledge there is scant legal basis for repatriation, their public statements suggest that they would use lawsuits, diplomatic pressure and shame to bring home looted objects — not unlike Italy, Greece and Egypt, which have sought, with some success, to recover antiquities in European and American museums.
The United States scouting tour — visits to England, France and Japan will come early next year — quickly turned into a spectacle sponsored by a Chinese liquor company. As for the eight-member delegation, a closer look revealed that most either were employed by the Chinese media or were from the palace museum’s propaganda department.
American archaeologists have been broadly supportive of China's efforts to repatriate artifacts. However, this article again suggests the motivations for such efforts have very little to do with scholarship or the preservation of artifacts and their context:
Mr. Liu, the researcher who was part of the delegation, seemed to admit as much, complaining that politics had upstaged scholarship. Even if he stumbled upon a palace relic, he said, he would be reluctant to take it back to an institution whose unheated exhibition space resembled little more than a military barracks. “To be honest, if you leave a thermos in our office, it gets broken,” he said.
“Maybe it’s better these things stay where they are.”