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July 21, 2015

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Gold ornaments returned from France go on display in Gansu

GOLD ornaments looted from ancient Chinese tombs and held by French collectors were formally handed over to the Gansu Provincial Museum in northwest China yesterday.

Li Xiaojie, head of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, presented one of the ornaments to Liu Weiping, Gansu’s governor, at the ceremony.

A public exhibition of the artifacts will run until October 31. After that, they will go on permanent display at the museum.

It was the first time that cultural relics have been successfully returned to China following bilateral negotiations between the Chinese and French governments.

They were returned by French private collectors Francois Pinault and Christian Deydier earlier this year.

“The return of the relics is the result of joint efforts by the Chinese and French governments and friends,” Li said.

Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, French ambassador to China, also attended the ceremony.

The 32 gold items came from tombs in Dabuzishan in Gansu’s Lixian County and date back to the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC).

The tombs belonged to residents of Qin, one of the small kingdoms during that period of Chinese history. In 221 BC, the king of Qin united China’s kingdoms, founded the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) and became the country’s first emperor.

The Dabuzishan tombs are said to be valuable resources for historians researching the life and culture of early Chinese people.

The ornaments may have been used to decorate coffins or for horse armor, said Wang Hui, head of the Gansu Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology.

The Qin people might have had exchanges with middle and western Asia. At that time, Chinese took bronze and jade as symbols of wealth while people in middle and western Asia valued gold more, Wang said.

The tombs were badly looted in the 1990s and a large number of relics, including the gold pieces, stolen.

They had been donated to the Guimet Museum in Paris by Pinault and Deydier when China approached France for their return in 2014, but French law forbids national museums giving away their collections.

Through careful negotiation, however, the two sides found a way out.

The donations were withdrawn and the artifacts returned to their previous private owners, removing the legal barrier to getting them back to China.

“This is just the beginning for the return of the large number of smuggled Chinese cultural relics scattered across the world,” said Wang.

Establishing a chain of evidence with archaeological analysis and technological authentication and facilitating this return through international cooperation sets a good example, he said.

The State Administration of Cultural Heritage is to negotiate with more countries over the return of smuggled relics, Li said.


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