Friday, May 31, 2013

ACCG Contests Forfeiture Action

The ACCG has filed a claim of interest to a group of coins minted in China and Cyprus that were seized by US Customs back in 2009.  By filing this pleading, the ACCG has placed the the government on notice that it intends to contest the forfeiture proceeding in Court.   The ACCG now has twenty-one (21) days to respond to the government's forfeiture complaint. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Blame the Victim?

While some in the archaeological blogosphere dismiss questions raised about poor stewardship of cultural resources in source countries as nothing more than "blaming the victim," others take a far more thoughtful view of the subject.  Arthur Houghton suggested in a comment on a recent blog post on CPO that source countries should forfeit their rights to demand repatriation when they fail to take care of their own cultural patrimony.   Now, Yale educated archaeologist Sally Johnson raises the same issues on the Art World Intelligence Blog.  In so doing, Johnson discusses the casual destruction of a Mayan pyramid in Belize to provide road building materials.  Johnson asks, "What rules can be put in place—and enforced—to prevent such intentional destruction if the 'owner' of the 'property' chooses to destroy it?"  Ironically, just this year the State Department granted Belize a MOU that supposedly will assist that country "preserve its own cultural patrimony."

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Chinese Hackers Don't Dissuade US State Department

Merely a week after CPAC met to consider the proposed renewal of the MOU with the PRC, the news broke about an extensive PRC program to  hack into US defense industry computer systems in an effort to steal US military secrets.

China is aggressively seeking an advantage against the US when it comes to defense preparedness.  But so too is it with respect to the maintenance of a strong antiquities market.  The difference is that the Defense Department is seeking to stymie Chinese ambitions, but our own State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center seem all to willing to encourage a vibrant Chinese market at the expense of American interests-- all supposedly in the name of archaeology.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Something's Missing from the Discussion About the Repatriation of Some Ancient Coins to Bulgaria

The Government has publicized the repatriation of some ancient coins to Bulgaria.   But we should be clear about the background of the return.  The coins were evidently abandoned after they were seized based on alleged misstatements on a customs form.  Though Bulgaria has sought a MOU with the United States, US import controls have not yet been promulgated.  Moreover, there is no allegation the coins in question were "stolen" from Bulgaria.  Indeed, that would be a difficult case to make given Bulgaria's open and legal trade in the exact same items.

For more about the issues surrounding the MOU that is being considered see here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

CPAC Public Session to Consider Renewal of MOU with PRC

On May 14, 2013, I attended a public session of the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC).   CPAC was considering the possible renewal of the current MOU with China.  The meeting took place in the Main State Department Building.   In addition to CPAC members, speakers and some members of the public, there was also a 5 person delegation from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) present.  They were not introduced and did not speak at the public session, though they likely conferred with CPAC privately afterwards.

The following CPAC members were present:  James Willis (JW) (Trade); Rosemary Joyce (RJ) (Archaeology); Barbara Kaul (BK) (Public); Marta de la Torre (MT) (Public); Patty Gerstenblith (PG) (Chair-Public);  Nancy Wilkie (NW) (Archaeology); Lothar von Falkenhausen  (LF) (Archaeology); Katherine Reid (KR) (Museum);  Nina Archibal (NA) (Museum).  Jane Levine (Trade) was not present.  One trade slot remains vacant.

Thirteen (13) individuals spoke.  These included:  (1) Josh Knerly (AAMD); (2) Thomas Lougham  (Clark Art Institute); (3) Dr. Matthew Welch (Minneapolis Institute of Art); (4) Dr. Liu Yang (Minneapolis Institute of Art; (5) Robin Nicholson (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts);  (6) Leila Amineddoleh (Executive Director, Lawyer’s Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation); (7) James Fitzpatrick (representing J.J. Lally & Co., a dealership in fine Chinese antiquities); (8) Peter Tompa (representing International Association of Professional Numismatists and the Professional Numismatists Guild); (9) Francis Allard (Indiana University of Pennsylvania); (10) Loukas Barton (University of Pittsburgh); (11) Roderick Campbell (New York University); (12) Anne Underhill (Yale University); and (13 ) Brian Daniels (Penn Cultural Center).

Josh Knerly (JK) supported the MOU, but suggested that China should be required to provide five (5) to ten (10) year long term loans rather than the current one (1) year loan period.   He also noted that China’s ability to control its borders for evaluating its own self-help measures needs to take into account the strength of China as a world power.  Quantifiable goals should be set for review within two (2) not the usual five (5) years.  The designated list should be more limited.  MT asked if there was any data about the impact of restrictions.  She observed that the opacity of the antiquities market makes coming to conclusions difficult.  KR asked about export licenses.  JK indicates that CPAC should ask China for data.  NW observed that the lack of an immunity law did not stop loans.  JK indicated it did limit loans of certain materials. 

Thomas Loughan (TL) indicated that more work needs to be done with extending loan periods.  BK asked about the loan period.  TL indicated it could be as little as less than five (5) months.  JW wondered if a bilateral committee could be established to discuss the loan issue.   KR asked about the types of object s that were loaned.  It took two shows to get enough “Grade 1” objects to match the Clark’s loan of French paintings.

Matthew Welch (MW) and Liu Yang (LY) expressed concerns about last minute changes in objects to be loaned.  This makes it difficult to create a display and a catalogue.   Object lists are typically finalized up to two (2) years before with regard to loans from Europe.  It is virtually impossible to organize exhibits that draw objects from more than one site because of the bureaucracy involved.  JW wondered if tackling the underlying bureaucratic inertia was impossible. KR asked for a specific example.  MW  indicated his museum had hoped to get an exhibit from Sydney, but at the last moment important objects were removed for another exhibit in Hong Kong.  It would be helpful if a contract could be finalized a year in advance. LF asked about loan fees.  These are not too bad, but associated expenses can be very high. In response to questions from RJ and PG, MW reiterated that getting loans from single sites was much easier than from multiple sites and changes to an objects list creates chaos when trying to secure immunity from seizure from the US Department of State.   MW dismissed KR’s claim that any problems were the result of cultural misunderstandings.  MW noted that LY is Chinese and understands the system quite well, but problems have persisted. 

Robin Nicholson (RN) discussed a prospective loan with the Palace Museum engineered with the support of Virginia’s governor.   The goal of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is to have a contract in place with the Chinese a year in advance.   Political support has been helpful in getting things done.  BK asked what sort of artifacts were involved.   RN indicated that the display related to 17th c. artifacts and more recent ones.  
Leila Amineddoleh  (LA) supported the renewal of the MOU.  She maintained the fact that 123 countries had signed the 1970 UNESCO Convention satisfied the Cultural Property Implementation Act’s (CPIA’s) concerted international response requirement.  She also noted that China had signed cooperative agreements with other countries to deter pillage. BK asked about the internal Chinese market.  LA indicated she was not familiar with details. LF asked how the PRC’s cooperation compared with that of other countries that have MOUs with the US.  LA maintained that the PRC’s cooperation was good and was comparable to that of Italy.   She also noted that the US has shown its cooperation most recently with Cambodia by seeking the forfeiture of a Khmer statute.  KR noted that repatriations were part of the mix with Italy.  JW noted that the forfeiture proceeding was not related to the MOU with Cambodia.

Jim Fitzpatrick (JF) indicated that it was important for CPAC to adhere to the CPIA’s statutory criteria.  He noted that unlike many third world countries, China was quite able to control its borders.  Furthermore, the domestic Chinese market is much larger than the US market so that import restrictions could have no impact on looting.  It makes no sense for an artifact to be freely available for sale in Beijing but not Boston.   There also needs to be self help, but artifacts leave the free ports of Hong Kong and Macao without restriction. 

PG asked about supporting data.  JF indicated that the statistic that 70% of artifacts in auctions go to Chinese buyers was based on an analysis of names of purchasers.  MT opined that the size of the market was not clear because the antiquities market lacks transparency.   She also noted that the figures included artifacts that are not currently restricted.  JF argued that the Chinese police state should be able to stop looting if it so desired.  JF noted that there was a certain resignation in the trade that it is difficult to undue restrictions.  JF indicated that the restrictions had deterred sales to museums.   JF also stated that as a consequence of the restrictions, much of the Chinese art business has gone abroad.   He stated there is a danger that the Chinese art business will go to France as has the trade in Pre-Columbian artifacts. 
JW indicated that he has now served on CPAC for 11 years and that he had noted a distinct decline in dealer and collector participation, especially compared to the last time the China MOU was discussed.   JW suggested that this decline in comment from dealers and collectors should be taken as a troubling sign for CPAC’s members.

JF agreed, indicating that CPAC’s debate has devolved from the larger issues of import restrictions to listening to complaints from archaeologists and museums about China’s non-compliance with Art. II of the MOU.  He stated, however, that numbers of comments received does not change CPAC’s obligation to apply the CPIA properly. 

LF stated that looting is illegal in China and asked if the US should be a safe haven for looted goods.  JF indicated that closing down the US legal market could not impact looting because of the size of the legal Chinese market.

Peter Tompa (PT) commended China for allowing and encouraging its people to collect common artifacts, but noted that import restrictions only give Chinese businesses—including insiders associated with the country’s rulers—a leg up on the foreign, especially US competition.  PT also indicated that China has not met its obligations under Article II.   In particular, the PRC has expanded its own export ban to any artifact pre-dating 1911 despite a promise to make legal export easier.  The PRC has also failed to crack down on looted artifacts being re-imported into China from Hong Kong and Macao and has also failed to ensure that its own museums do not purchase looted materials.  CPAC should recommend that the current MOU be suspended because it Is only hurting US interests.  At a minimum, however, CPAC should advocate that cash coins—which exist in the millions if not billions—be delisted.  The State Department cannot show these coins only circulated in China because they were widely exported.  If anything, these coins should be shared with students as a teaching tool about Chinese history and culture. 

PG asked about figures related to the size of the Chinese Art Market.  PT confirmed that these figures include both ancient and modern art.  NW asked where Chinese coins come from.  PT indicted some come from tombs, but others come from deposits or were saved after the coins were no longer used as legal tender.  As for coins coming from tombs, they would only be looted incidentally because looters would be primarily motivated to look for far more valuable items.  As for coins that were never buried,  he cited the attachment to his submission which described a Chinese collector who first learned about ancient Chinese cash coins from breaking open an old toy that made use of such coins as weights.  In response to a question about the value of such coins, PT indicated that the value was generally minimal—such coins retail for as little as $1 in the US.   NW maintained there was still an inventive to loot them because one of the hoards of 200,000 coins that was described would be worth $200,000.   PT indicated that the value was likely much less in China.

Francis Allard (FA) spoke of his experiences excavating in China.  He has been offered antiquities in the past but has always declined.  Although FA supports the MOU, the Chinese bureaucracy has not made it easy to collaborate with Chinese colleagues.   NW wondered whether the MOU could be used to promote the building of more laboratories to conduct research.

Loukas Barton (LB) has excavated in China, Mongolia and Alaska.   The Chinese do not allow grave robbing.  He also saw a group of looters being driven from town to town as examples.  He can’t say for sure, but he thinks the Chinese must be taking effective action against looters because he is no longer being offered antiquities.  The Chinese punitive system may be having an effect.   LB specializes in pre-history.  His request for a permit to collaborate with Chinese colleagues in his study of prehistoric China was denied without explanation in 2012.  LB refused to speculate as to the reason.  [CPO wonders whether the Chinese cultural bureaucracy does not want foreigners delving too far into China’s prehistory.   Is it possible they are concerned that the results might undercut China’s historic claim of Han dominion over the land?]  RJ asked about looting.   LB indicated he saw evidence of tomb robbing, but where tombs had already been eroded.  He has also seen shovel pits.  LF expressed frustration with the Chinese denial of FA’s permit.   LB indicated he was told by Chinese colleagues that it was due to a “political problem,” but they did not elaborate.   There are other annoyances as the Chinese ban on the use of GPS devices.  NW recounted how she was denied a permit as well in the 1980’s so the problem is not a new one.

Rod Campbell (RC) indicated that looting was still an issue in China.  Bronzes and oracle bones are particular targets.   RC indicated that the best Bronze Age sites have been looted.   The MOU has helped encourage student exchanges.  RC has been involved in salvage archaeology.  Connections are important to work in China. 

Anne Underhill (AU) suggested that the renewal of the MOU is an opportunity to make improvements.  Looting has declined but some is still taking place.   There should be an increase in cultural exchange.   AU acknowledges there is a large internal market for Chinese artifacts, but the US should keep its import restrictions in place to demonstrate its good will to the Chinese and act as a good role model.   There needs to be more of an effort made as to Hong Kong and Macao.  Museum loans should be made more transparent.   NW indicated there needs to be more Chinese language programs.  In response to a question from PG,  AH indicated that collaboration had improved.

Brian Daniels (BD) indicated that China had complied with Art. II of the MOU.  It has improved regulation of its own market.  In 2009, it created an antiquities police force.  In 2011, it created an interministerial group to examine looting.   There have been proposals to harmonize export controls with Hong Kong and Macao though work needs to be done.  There has been more scrutiny of artifacts leaving China for these free ports.   China has instituted a free museum policy.   NA asked if cultural exchange ebbed and flowed according to diplomatic relations.  BD indicated that he was not aware of any changes depending on diplomatic relations and in fact cultural relations are always beneficial.  MT asked about policing.  There were 764 cases in 2009 and 1210 cases in 2011.  BD did not want to speculate as to the increase.

JW asked about Tibet to all participants.  TL indicated there is some collaboration with Tibetan interests.  PT indicated that the Chinese government has recently been criticized in the press for bulldozing large swaths of Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, in the name of promoting tourism. 

The public meeting then closed.  

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Government Waste and Abuse

Jason Felch for the LA Times has reported on the goverment's now floundering case concerning Ban Chiang pottery that started some five years ago with so much fanfare.

The real problem with this investigation is that it targeted artifacts that were openly available for sale in Thailand.  What was hyped as mainly a stolen property case became a far less "sexy" tax and smuggling case.  The old bait and switch.

It's high time for the US government to stop being the muscle for US academics with an axe to grind against collectors and foreign cultural bureaucrats.  If Thailand is so interested in repatriation of these ceramics, our courts are open to it.

Let Thai officials bring their own case instead of shifting that cost to the US Taxpayer.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

CPAC = Complaints Processing Advisory Committee?

As will become more apparent from my upcoming summary of its public session on Chinese import restrictions, the Cultural Property Advisory Committee appears to have devolved into little more than a complaints bureau for museums and archaeologists with gripes about a source country’s compliance with promises made to these groups in order to secure a MOU with the United States. Import restrictions associated with those MOUs, of course, “stick it” to collectors and the small businesses of the coin and antiquities trade all in the name of “protecting archaeological sites.” But what is really ridiculous this time around is that the EXACT SAME artifacts that Americans are no longer free to import are openly available for sale on Chinese markets, and in immense quantities that dwarf any market here.

It was not supposed to be that way. Instead, CPAC was supposed to provide useful advice to the executive branch about protecting both foreign archaeological contexts and protecting US based business and cultural interests.

What happened? First, Senator Moynihan, who ensured that the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act reflected this balance, retired from the Senate. And then over time, the State Department chipped away at the considerable substantive and procedural constraints found in the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, going so far as to ignore CPAC’s recommendations that there should be no import restrictions on artifacts as common as historical coins and then misleading Congress and the public about it. Most recently, CPAC has been packed with archaeological supporters, including in slots reserved for the public. No wonder CPAC has become little more than a complaints bureau and rubber stamp for the State Department’s prejudged decision-making favoring the interests of foreign cultural bureaucracies and their allies in the archaeological and museum communities.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Art You Will Never See

A new website has appeared in the blogosphere called "Art You Will Never See."  The website highlights the "orphan artifacts" problem created by the AAMD's recently adopted 1970 Rule for acquisitions.

According to the website,

ART YOU WILL NEVER SEE seeks to advance public education and understanding of issues affecting museums with particular respect to the collecting, conserving, displaying and publication of cultural artifacts. It is the specific purpose of this website to help the public understand what the AAMD’s rule-making means, It is the hope of ART YOU WILL NEVER SEE that the objects shown on these pages will underscore the importance of the orphans issue and point the way toward change in guidelines that were enacted by an organization with little understanding of their consequences.

The objects shown here need few words. The images speak for themselves. Historically or artistically, all are of exceptional importance. If they were offered today, however, even as a donation, the AAMD says they should be rejected by the art museums of America. They are only tip of the iceberg, however: beneath them lies an extraordinary depth and breadth of material in private hands that you will, now, never see in an American museum.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


This more or less was my statement to CPAC on behalf of IAPN and PNG.  I hope to report on the public session of CPAC considering the renewal of the MOU with China in the near future.
A recent issue of Economist Magazine writes of Xi Jinping, China’s new Communist Party Leader and his slogan, the Chinese Dream, a call for China to reclaim its ancient glory. 
          Part of all this, of course, is to highlight the importance of ancient Chinese artifacts not just through diplomatic efforts like this MOU, but through the creation of a vibrant internal collector’s market, including world class bourses like the Beijing International Coin and Stamp Show and auction houses like China Guardian and Poly Auctions.
          On that score, let me be the first to say I’m all for the Chinese government encouraging China’s own people to collect, preserve, study and display ancient artifacts, particularly as common as ancient Chinese coins, which must still exist in the millions if not billions.  That certainly is much preferable to the ideologically motivated destruction of Chinese cultural heritage during the Cultural Revolution or, for that matter, the far more recent demolition of historic Buddhist Temples and large swaths of Lhasa in Tibet and Kashgar on the Silk Road all in the name of progress.   
          But given the reality of a huge, largely open internal Chinese market in common antiquities like pottery and coins, it’s a fair question to ask what is the real purpose of the import restrictions our State Department, presumably with the consent of CPAC, have imposed on American collectors, the small businesses of the antiquities and coin trade and museums?
          I’m well aware that archaeologists have argued that import restrictions help drive potentially looted artifacts off the market, but such a claim makes little sense whatsoever given this huge internal Chinese market.   Indeed, all that is really being accomplished is to give Chinese dealers, auction houses and collectors a leg up on their foreign, particularly American competition.   
          Does CPAC really support such a state of affairs, particularly where the most successful Chinese antiquities sales outlets are insiders associated with the Chinese Government, like Poly Group run by the People’s Liberation Army and China Guardian Auctions, run by the daughter of one of China’s former leaders?  Let’s hope not.
          There is also the issue of Chinese compliance with the current MOU.    Several issues come to mind.   First, China was supposed to make it easier to legally export artifacts, but it has not.  Instead, it now reportedly bans exports of any artifact (even apparently foreign ones like 19th c. US Trade Dollars) pre-dating 1911
          Of course, these rules do not apply to the free ports of Hong Kong and Macao.  China was also 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.   
          China has also failed to crack down on its own museums purchasing recently looted materials.  Indeed, the business plan of the Poly Group appears to contemplate purchases of such material.   Will CPAC and the State Department hold the PRC accountable to its promises?   Let’s hope so.
          Finally, let’s talk more about Chinese coins currently on the designated list.   The State Department and U.S. Customs have misapplied the CPIA’s requirement limiting any restrictions to artifacts “first discovered within” and “subject to the export control” of China.  They have instead barred the import of any Tang Dynasty and earlier coins based on their place of production, which is entirely different. 
          One cannot safely assume any Chinese cash coins are only found where they were made.  Scholarly evidence demonstrates that early cash coins like those on the designated list were exported in quantity with later issues all around the Far East and even as far West as Africa and the Arabian coast.  
          Certainly the entire agreement with China should be suspended because it is doing nothing to actually protect Chinese archaeological sites, but at a minimum, Chinese cash coins, which exist in the millions if not billions, should be delisted. 
          Indeed, if anything, both China and the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs should seek to have such exceptionally common coins disseminated as widely as possible to US Schools to help teach American students about Chinese history and hence foster the cultural understanding that is supposed to be the brief of ECA, whose Assistant Secretary is the deciding official for this MOU.   Perhaps, that should be a recommendation of CPAC during this  Asian Pacific American Heritage Month --not more restrictions on common coins of the sort widely collected in China itself.
Thank you.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Houghton Questions CPAC on Renewal of China MOU

Arthur Houghton left this comment to my last post about the China MOU, but as he is a former CPAC member himself (who represented the interests of museums), CPO is publishing his query as a separate post:

Peter, the questions go deeper, given the fact that the PRC has asked the US to renew the current Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries. 

The PRC is required to give the US a full report on its compliance with the MOU. Has it done so?  If not, why not?  If it has, the State Department is required to provide the US public with the PRC's report.  Has it done so?  If not why not?  Is there a cover up here -- by the PRC or, worse (much worse!) by the Administration? 

Could someone comment on this?

Thank you,


By way of background, here is what was promised in Article II of the Current MOU:


1. Representatives of the Government of the United States of America and representatives of the Government of the People’s Republic of China shall regularly publicize this Memorandum of Understanding and the reasons for it through available outlets of communication.

2. The Government of the People’s Republic of China shall expand efforts to educate its citizens about the long term importance of safeguarding its rich cultural heritage and that of other countries, a principle embodied in the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

3. The Government of the People’s Republic of China shall use its best efforts to make use of surface surveys in order to inventory sites, and to broaden archaeological research and enhance public awareness of its importance. 4. The Government of the People’s Republic of China shall use its best efforts to increase
funding and professional resources for the protection of cultural heritage throughout the country.

5. The Government of the People’s Republic of China shall take measures to improve the effectiveness of its customs officers, in order to: (1) stop the illicit exportation of cultural property at borders and ports; and (2) recognize Chinese archaeological material and its value to the heritage. The Government of the United States of America shall use its best efforts to improve the ability of its customs officers to recognize Chinese archaeological material and, as appropriate, facilitate assistance to China for the training of its customs

6. The Government of the People’s Republic of China shall make every effort to stop archaeological material looted or stolen from the Mainland from entering the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Macao Special Administrative Region with the goal of eliminating the illicit trade in these regions.

7. The Government of the United States of America recognizes that the Government of the People’s Republic of China permits the international interchange of archaeological materials for cultural, educational and scientific purposes to enable widespread public appreciation of and legal access to China’s rich cultural heritage.

 The Government of the People’s Republic of China agrees to use its best efforts to further such interchange in the following ways:

(1) promote long-term loans of archaeological objects of significant interest to a broad cross-section of American museums for public exhibition, education, and research purposes;

(2) promote increased institution-to-institution collaboration in the field of art history and in other humanistic and academic disciplines relating to the archaeological heritage of China;

(3) promote the exchange of students and professionals in such fields as archaeology, art history, conservation, museum curatorial practices, and cultural heritage management between appropriate Chinese and U.S. institutions; and
4) facilitate the granting of permits to conduct archaeological research in China.

8. The Government of the United States of America shall use its best efforts to facilitate technical assistance to the Government of the People’s Republic of China in pursuit of preserving its cultural heritage by such means as creating a national preservation strategy, improving rescue archaeology, stabilizing and restoring sites/buildings, enhancing the capacity of museums to preserve and exhibit collections, and strengthening regulation of the “cultural relics” market.

9. The Government of the People’s Republic of China shall continue to license the sale and export of certain antiquities as provided by law and will explore ways to make more of these objects available licitly.

10. Recognizing that, pursuant to this Memorandum of Understanding, museums in the United States will be restricted from acquiring certain archaeological objects, the Government of the People’s Republic of China agrees that its museums will similarly refrain from acquiring such restricted archaeological objects that are looted and illegally exported from Mainland China to destinations abroad, unless the seller or donor
provides evidence of legal export from Mainland China or verifiable documentation that the item left Mainland China prior to the imposition of U.S. import restrictions. This will apply to purchases made outside Mainland China by any museum in Mainland China and only to the categories of objects representing China’s cultural heritage from the Paleolithic Period through the end of the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 907), and monumental sculpture and wall art at least 250 years old, as covered by this Memorandum of

11. The Government of the People’s Republic of China shall seek to improve regulation of its internal market for antiquities.

12. Both Governments agree that, in order for United States import restrictions to be most successful in thwarting pillage, the Government of the People’s Republic of China shall endeavor to strengthen regional cooperation within Asia for the protection of cultural patrimony; and, in the effort to deter further pillage in China, shall seek increased cooperation from other importing nations to restrict the import of looted archaeological material originating in China.

13. To strengthen the cooperation between the two countries, the Government of the People’s Republic of China shall regularly provide the Government of the United States with information concerning the implementation of this Memorandum of Understanding; and, as appropriate, the Government of the United States shall provide information to the Government of the People’s Republic of China that strengthens the ability of both countries to enforce applicable laws and regulations to reduce illicit trafficking in cultural property.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Shame on China III: The PRC's Cronyism and Mercantilist-like Approach to Collecting

I’m actually happy China allows and even encourages collectors to preserve, study and display artifacts from China’s glorious past. But China should be criticized for giving connected insiders like Poly Group, a Chinese auction house connected with the People’s Liberation Army, a leg up on the competition, both foreign and domestic.

China should also be taken to task for taking on a mercantilist-like approach to collecting; Chinese citizens can import whatever they want, but no exports of artifacts predating 1911 are allowed, officially at least. Of course, anything and everything still exits the free ports of Hong Kong and Macao. That allows recently looted artifacts to be re-imported into China no questions asked for rich Chinese collectors.

Why should the US State Department and US Customs preclude Americans from importing Chinese artifacts when China encourages its own citizens to collect the same artifacts, and indeed, the size of the internal Chinese market is many, many times the size of the US market in such materials?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Shame on China II: Destruction of Buddhist Religious Heritage

Even after more than 50 years of communism, China remains a religious country.  Nevertheless, the officially atheist PRC not only harasses religious Chinese, but callously destroys China's religious heritage in the name of progress. 

CPO has reported on China's part in the planned demolition of an important Buddhist site in Afghanistan for profit, but religious sites at home fair no better.  For example, AFP is reporting on plans to bulldoze many of the buildings associated with a 1,300 year old Buddhist temple erected near where China's famous terracotta warriors were found.  Ironically, the supposed reason for the destruction is to assist with an application to make the area a "World Heritage Site."

Should the US State Department authorize repatriation of every last unprovenanced Chinese coin when China cares so little for major religious sites?

Update:  While archaeo-blogger Paul Barford contorts logic to justify the demolition of this important Buddhist site within China proper, far more troubling news has emerged that Chinese authorities have begun to demolish wide swaths of Tibet's capital, including another important temple, again in the name of progress.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

German High Court Rules Export Permits Not Required for Collectors' Coins in Trade

Germany's highest regulatory court has ruled  that coins in trade will not be treated as archaeological objects requiring an export permit under EU law. The court said that because they are objects created in quantity, they have lost any archaeological value, and to require export permits for them would put an unreasonable restraint on trade. The decision in its entirety can be read here.   

UPDATE 5/4/13:  Not surprisingly, archaeo-blogger Paul Barford is in denial about the implications of Court's ruling and has even implied the court's decision-making was corrupted by "commercial interests."  As to the former, I think a well known numismatist said it best:

Of course Mr. Barford is in denial of the court's actual ruling: “coins coming from Antiquity generally have no archeological value and thus are not archeological objects”. It doesn’t come much clearer than that. Nor is this “the Bavarian judiciary” as Mr. Barford would like to believe; it is the supreme court of Germany for cases involving customs and taxes.

As to the latter, I think Mr. Barford should compare what Transparency International says about Germany and places whose views of cultural property matters he champions, like Greece, Cyprus, Italy and China.