China’s Campaign to Reclaim Cultural Relics

A team of Chinese cultural experts has been traveling to museums throughout the U.S. in search of items removed from the Old Summer Palace by British and Americans in 1860. As mentioned yesterday on CDT, the New York Times reported on a Chinese delegation’s trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (where no items of questionable provenance were discovered).

As part of its campaign to reclaim plundered cultural relics, Chinese cultural authorities have also publicized the donation of nine bronze vessels, which were originally housed in the tombs of the Marquis of Jin in Shanxi and the Duke of Qin in Gansu but had been removed and eventually purchased overseas by Chinese-American Fan Jirong. In November, Fan donated the vessels to the Chinese state.

In People’s Daily, Zhang Deqin, former Director of the National Bureau of Cultural Relics, wrote about Fan’s donation (excerpts translated by Luke Habberstad):

Deep and loving dedication to serving our country – A record of Fan Jirong’s donation of bronze vessels

Published: December 13, 2009, Renmin ribao

Zhang Deqin (former Director of the National Bureau of Cultural Relics)

On November 23rd, the Chinese-American Fan Jirong donated nine bronze vessels to the state. During the acceptance ceremony, Shan Jixiang, Director of the National Bureau of Cultural Relics, highly assessed the effect Fan Jirong would have on the repatriation of Chinese cultural relics lost abroad.

As a person involved in this event, I would like to describe to everybody a few facts, largely unknown, from before and after the return of the vessels.

I have known Fan Jirong for many years. He is one of the most passionate supporters of the Shanghai Museum. While I was Director of the National Bureau of Cultural Relics, our shared loved for the cause of the museum brought us closely together.

In September of 2005, while chatting with Fan during an event, he mentioned that he would like to do more for the repatriation of cultural relics from abroad. Towards this end, Fan invited me to visit the U.S. In May of 2009, just prior to going to the U.S., Shan Jixiang, Dong Baohua, and other comrades from the National Bureau of Cultural Relics threw me a send-off party. Shan Jixiang mentioned that two foci of the state for recovery were artifacts from the tombs of the Marquis of Jin in Shanxi and the Duke of Qin in Gansu. He had heard that Fan Jirong had purchased relics from these two tombs abroad. They all hoped I would work hard [to secure the return of these materials.]

On June 8th, we arrived in New York. Completely disregarding the time difference and tourist sights, we immediately started this pressing work. On the next day at 10:00 am, Fan Jirong came to the hotel. We found a quiet place to have some coffee and tea. From beginning to end, I related Director Shan’s aims to Fan. Fan speaks deliberately, never acts in haste, and maintains a low profile. After hearing what I had to say, he nodded his head, and earnestly considered a moment before saying: “This is possible! I can donate to the nation!” There was no need for negotiation, not to mention haggling over a price. Fan Jirong simply responded in this manner, without hesitation.

Some people living abroad hide their true intentions, and taking advantage of our patriotic sentiment endeavor to sell the cultural relics of our nation for stratospheric prices. At this moment, Fan Jirong, a man of lofty character, boldly stepped forward and unflinchingly donated to China these nine ancient bronze vessels. This sort of exalted and magnanimous behavior unquestionably will encourage our resolve to protect and rescue cultural relics that have been lost abroad. Fan’s actions filled me with admiration and gratitude.