Sunday, May 16, 2010

Chinese Death Sentences for Tomb Raiding

The New York Times on 5/14 carried this Associated Press report that China has sentenced some tomb raiders to death:

China Sentences to Death 4 Robbers of Old Tombs
Filed at 8:48 a.m. ET

BEIJING (AP) -- China has sentenced to death four robbers who used explosives and heavy machinery to plunder tombs almost 2,500 years old.

The state-run Xinhua News Agency says the four sentenced Friday were part of a 27-member gang who robbed a dozen tombs near the capital of the central province of Hunan in 2008 and 2009.

The report says some of the more than 200 stolen artifacts were under China's highest level of protection. One of the tombs dates from the Warring States period that began in 475 B.C.
An investigator told Xinhua all the relics were recovered.

The Intermediate People's Court in Changsha handed down the death sentences. The other robbers got prison terms.

China executes more people than any other country in the world.

Capital punishment for this kind of crime seems like gross "overkill" to me, and raises further questions about double standards at work. In particular, one wonders whether similar punishment would be meted out to members of the Chinese elite, particularly when antiquities trading is quite popular in such circles.

I suspect many archaeologists and others who have ties with the Chinese cultural establishment are also horrified by such harsh punishment, but I suspect few, if any, will condemn such death sentences publicly.

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