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.