Public support for China’s request

Letters to The New York Times re “China’s Request for Art-Import Ban Stirs Debate” (April 1, 2005)

To the Editor:
Mr. Kennedy’s “dealers and museums versus archaeologists” characterization ignores the fact that CPAC represents all of the American people, 96% of whom favor laws that protect cultural heritage, according to a 2000 Harris poll.”

Nearly 700 petitions supporting China’s request gathered online by SAFE www.savingantiquities.org) further demonstrate that people want our undiscovered past to be preserved wherever it happens to be—not plundered for a quick buck. We all have a stake in the outcome and we demand to be heard.

Cindy Ho

Dear Editor:
Randy Kennedy quotes former Metropolitan Museum counsel Ashton Hawkins and others who dismiss Chinese cultural heritage protection efforts but offer no facts. Consider these: between 1981 and 1987 Chinese customs seized 70,226 smuggled artifacts and seized 127,000 artifacts between 1991 and 1997, clear evidence of tightened enforcement. Seizures continue under the tough 2002 Law on the Protection of Cultural Relics. And $834 million has been earmarked to build nearly 3,000 new museums in China by 2015.

Another key point: looted cultural artifacts smuggled from China are, by definition, stolen property. Quoting Mr. Hawkins, readers”should be aware that trafficking in any material whatsoever, stolen from a museum, cultural institution, religious institution or individual having a possessory interest is a criminal offense in the United States under the National Stolen Property Act. This Act applies to objects stolen in any country in the world” — including China.

P. K.

Sources to check the facts contained in my letter:

The 70,226 figure comes from Archaeology.org, paragraph 3, sentence 2

The 127,000 figure is the sum total of numbers contained in fotenote 9, page 2, of letter submitted to CPAC by Patty Gerstenblith.

The Cultural Relic Protection Law, approved in October 2002 and put into force May 2003 is referenced at the bottom of page 1, top of page 2 and in footnotes 4 and 7 on page 2.

[Editor please note: the author of the above-referenced paper, Patty Gerstenblith, is an attorney, a Professor of law at DePaul University College of Law and Director of its Arts and Cultural Heritage Program. She served as a public representative of the CPAC committee in 2002-2003. She is an expert on international art law. Unlike Hawkins and others quoted in your article, she has no financial or professional stake in the outcome of the China request. She gave testimony at the CPAC public session in favor of the China request.]

The $854 million / 3000 museums fact comes from Shan Jixiang, director of China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH)

The Ashton Hawkins stolen property quote comes from his own Cultural Policy Council web site.

 

Statements taken from more than 700 petitions gathered online by SAFE:

I support China’s request to the US for import restrictions on certain categories of antiquities. As a working field archaeologist, I know from personal experience of the damage and irreplaceable losses that looting, fueled by the demands of the art market, do all over the world. China is a vast, critically important area for world history and heritage and its past must be protected to the greatest extent possible. —Carla Antonaccio, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

I support China’s request to the US for import restrictions on certain categories of antiquities. It is immoral to condone this trade or not to act to stop it. It is a denial of the human race the right to collectively own the heritage in situ. —G. A., Los Angeles, California


I support China’s request to the US for import restrictions on certain categories of antiquities. China’s past is being sent in pieces to the US at an ever-increasing rate. Our local museums and art galleries are full of the sad remnants of looted tombs and archaeological sties as well as material robbed from museums in China. The days when the US could arrograntly claim that the world’s heritage was useful only for it’s own interior decorating pleasure are over and we owe it to humanity, not just the Chinese, to establish an MOU with them. –K. B., San Francisco, California

I support China’s request to the US for import restrictions on certain categories of antiquities. As a former archaeologist, I am painfully aware of the damage done to cultural history by the pillaging of archaeological sites. The illicit antiquities trade must be stopped, and this is a step in the right direction. –L. B., Clifton Heights, Pennsylvania

I support China’s request to the US for import restrictions on certain categories of antiquities. Implementing this request will have significant and far-reaching effects throughout Asia. –Alexandra Cleworth, Sturbridge, Massachusetts

I support China’s request to the United States for import restrictions on certain categories of antiquities. The United States has a vested interest in promoting the rule of law internationally. As a past supporter of antiquities protection treaties and accords, the United States has been a leader in this area, and must continue to promote the careful documentation, conservation, and trade in historic artifacts.

In addition, the United States government must support such efforts on behalf of its own citizens, public museums, and private organizations that engage in the lawful trade of such cultural artifacts. Restrictions that guarantee the proper authentication of antiquities in the stream of commerce is vital to U.S. interests, and the federal government must act accordingly to protect the interests of its citizens and associations.

At present, because of the tremendous illicit trafficking in Chinese artifacts, all appropriate restrictions, including an import ban, must be utilized in order to end the pillaging of historic sites in China and to allow time for proper procedural methods to be instituted for the excavation of such sites and subsequent documentation and certification of related artifacts. –Christopher Fullerton, Boston, Massachusetts

I support China’s request to the US for import restrictions on certain categories of antiquities. China’s contribution to human advancement throughout history is incalculable. Thus, it is everyone’s history that is being erased by looting. Let’s be the responsible country we’re supposed to be and do everything in our power to stop this destruction! –Jon Hanna, Stratford, New Jersey

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I support China’s request to the US for import restrictions on certain categories of antiquities. Similar bilateral agreements for Peru and Mali have worked to curtail looting of archaeological resources in these countries. Archaeological colleagues of mine have spoken from firsthand experience about the devastation in China, so protection of this type is badly needed. –B. H., Boston, Massachusetts

 There are enough gaps in the material remains of all cultures; decreasing the looting that occurs in China would provide a good model for other sites that are being pillaged. –Teresa Kirkland, New Orleans, Louisiana

I support China’s request to the United States for import restrictions on certain categories of antiquities. It is absolutely imperative that the ancient artifacts from China’s long long history be preserved. The plundering must be stopped and restricting importation is an essential threshold for putting a stop to the terrible loss of these irreplaceable treasures. –Diane Moss, New York, New York

I support China’s request to the US for import restrictions on certain categories of antiquities. How can the history of the world be studied if the artifacts that tell the stories are scattered? Archaeology, history and the knowledge of who we (the world) were should not be a possession of those who have the most money. Everyone should be able to learn from and see the artifacts. –M. M.

I support China’s request to the US for import restrictions on certain categories of antiquities. Can we not curb the voracious appetite to the heritage of others for unrestrained monetary gain? Let us step up to the plate to show our support of the quality of life and right to history of all. –Celeste Regal, Kearny, New Jersey

I support China’s request to the US for import restrictions on certain categories of antiquities. China’s cultural heritage must be preserved. Only objects found, studied, and exhibited within their proper found cultural context are really useful in explaining the history of a nation. We need China’s to be kept intact. –A. S., Stillwater, Minnesota

 As a former archaeologist, I’ve learned about the serious threats to China’s archaeological resources. The looting of archaeological sites is a problem around the world, as we have seen perhaps most vividly in Iraq recently. Like many other countries facing crises in the destruction of their archaeological resources, China combines an extraordinarily rich archaeological heritage with rural poverty, which creates a great incentive for looting, particularly when the U.S. provides a ready market for unprovenanced antiquities.

As a law student, I understand the limitations of the CPIA but also realize that principles of equity dictate that we should respond favorably to China’s request for import restrictions. China is taking strong internal measures to clamp down on illegal looting and to prevent the export of its cultural heritage. These internal measures can only go so far. The antiquities trade, like any other market, involves suppliers and consumers. The U.S. Must join other antiquities consuming nations in agreeing not to allow illicit Chinese antiquities to be brought into this country and sold here with impunity. I ask you please to support China’s request for antiquities import restrictions. Thank you. –A. S., Birmingham, Alabama

As a student of Archaeology, who will depend on history for a future career, I find it unacceptable to squander the cultural heritage of our world to satisfy the desires of a few. The United States would be setting a fine example by taking this step to ban importation of antiquities that the intellectual community KNOWS is wrong. –F. S., Boston, Massachusetts

I support China’s request to the US for import restrictions on certain categories of antiquities. I am the parent of a 2-year-old daughter adopted from China. –S. W., Cincinnati, Ohio

 I support China’s request to the US for import restrictions on certain categories of antiquities. Because those antiquities are the treasures of the whole world, protecting them is protecting the cultural heritage of the whole human race. Thank you! –Z. Z., Lauderdale, Minnesota

“The argument that museums in the West are better custodians for fragments from China’s cultural heritage is in itself deeply flawed, and to argue for the denial of China’s request because of poor management in some of China’s museums is preposterous, or worse. And the truth is that when you look behind the scenes, not even all museums in Western countries with Chinese collections actually have acceptable collection management.”

Magnus Fiskesjö, former director of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm