Law Squirrel

175 Arrests in Chinese Artefact Recovery Operation

Jade DragonChinese authorities have arrested 175 individuals in what they claim is the biggest stolen artefact recovery operation in the country’s history. According to the Ministry of Public Security, a total of 1,168 historical and cultural relics have been recovered.

The total value of these relics, the Ministry reported, comes in at over 500 million yuan (£52 million, US$80 million). Among them is a depiction in jade of a coiled dragon, authorities reported, which represents one of the earliest known images of a dragon.

The artefacts are believed to have been excavated illegally from a Neolithic site in Liaoning province. According to Unesco the site in question, Niuheliang, dates back 5,000-5,000 years to the Hongshan period, when it was used as a burial site and a centre of sacrificial practices. The site has been severely damaged by the activity of looters illegally excavating and removing artefacts, the Ministry said.

The 175 individuals arrested in the recent operation are said to represent every step in the process of obtaining and selling illegal artefacts. As well as the the looters who originally took the relics from the site, there are others whose involvement in the process was in handling and selling on the relics rather than in the actual excavation work. All in all, the looters are reported to be from 10 separate gangs who handled various aspects of the process. Four professional archaeologists are believed to have been involved in the theft of the artefacts.

The operation has been claimed to be the biggest of its kind since modern China was first founded in 1949, and most likely therefore the biggest in the entire history of the country. Over 1,000 police officers are said to have been involved in the operation. Dates relating to the operation, including the date or dates of the recent mass arrests, have not been revealed to the public at present.

Looting of artefacts from historical sites is a global problem. While they are rarely professional archaeologists, thieves tend to be well-informed about what to look for and what they will be able to sell. Often, artefacts end up being sold to legitimate if ill-informed buyers who do not know that the items in question have been obtained illegally, nor that they have been stolen directly from their original contexts before professional archaeologists have been able to examine them and glean information.

Often, it is very difficult for authorities to catch up with thieves. Speaking to China Daily, Cai Binghui, a police officer who took part in the operation, lamented that “artefacts are sold at a fast speed and traded frequently in a short time.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *