The devastating effects of illegal excavations in China

Much of China’s ancient history is unknown and will remain forever lost because of illegal excavations, for example, the Chu, Liao, Jing and the Hongshan Cultures. (“Illicit Excavation in Contemporary China” by He Shuzhong, 2001) Robbing tombs and desecrating human remains violate the Chinese traditional respect for national cultural heritage. According to He Shuzhong, until about twenty years ago most Chinese people respected their heritage and they considered an archaeological site to be part of the ‘national cultural heritage’ or the ‘soul of the ancestor’. During most of the 20th century there was a real sense of duty to report finds to the authorities. The lucrative gains from supplying the demand of the international illicit antiquities tradein the last 20 years have eroded this sense of national responsibility. The forgery industry prospers as a result of the high demand for Chinese antiquities. (“Fakes Flood Market” by Mark Rose, January 28, 2002, Archaeology)


Tan Changgu
Local people illegally excavating
Tan Changgu
Mr. Chen Dong from Chuzhou District Museum: “This ancient bowl was classics of Ming Dynasty.

Case study: Huaian City of Jiangshu Province: 300 ancient tombs illegally excavated in two months Source: He Shuzhong, Cultural Heritage Watch Weekly Observation “Another Kind of ‘Return'” 5/22/2001, courtesy of Ton Cremers

Huaian City of Jiangshu Province is one of the National Famous Cities of Historical and Cultural Value. There are many archaeological sites in the city. However, many of them are being illegally excavated by local people. For example, because of the water conservancy construction for Huaihe River from 1999, many archaeological heritage areas were found and illegally excavated very quickly. In March and April this year, more than 300 Ming and Qing Dynasty tombs in Chuzhou District of the city were destroyed by local people.

Jiangshu Province is one of the richest areas in China and the heritage administration is also advanced. However, such destruction has not been stopped.

"The importance of an archaeological site depends upon the maintenance of its integrity...It is very difficult to find a site (in China) which has not been damaged in some way by illicit excavators."

He Shuzhong, Illict Excavation in Contemporary China