Back in the news again is Beijing’s Old Summer Palace, whose destruction still remains a sensitive topic in China.
Built during the Qing Dynasty, it was later sacked by British and French troops in 1860 during the Second Opium War. Countless works of art were also looted from the palace and then taken abroad. Now many of these items remain in the hands of foreign museums or private collections.
Earlier this year, a few of those artifacts went up for auction in Paris, drawing the attention of the Chinese media. The Chinese government condemned the sale and demanded the artifacts’ return.
Now with the recent passing of the 149th anniversary of the palace’s destruction, China has announced it will send a team of experts to identify and document what items were taken from the historic palace. To do so, the team will visit museums, libraries and private collections in countries like the United States, Britain, France, Japan and more.
But the team’s goal will only involve cataloging what relics were looted in order to understand what the palace was like before it was destroyed. Still, Chen Mingjie, director of the Old Summer Palace’s management office said that they hope some artifacts will be returned to China during this retracing effort.
Like many repatriation issues, the topic has generated different views on what should be done. The hope for many Chinese netizens is that China can correct a bleak part of its country’s history.
One blogger, 村民老尚 described the history of the Old Summer Palace as a disgraceful and heavy burden.
Another blogger, 高遠 discussed the difficulties China might encounter when trying to search for the relics in museums abroad.
我看这两天西方媒体报道， 他们说欧洲多国博物馆对中国追讨文物的举措感到紧张和担忧。紧张是心虚，担忧是怕自己的强权地位衰落而影响国际形象。但对我们中国来说，追讨遗失文物是早 晚要走的必由之路。
Not all bloggers saw a need to search for the artifacts. 司馬平邦 commented that the palace’s significance has been overstated.
Other comments have been made, reflecting the feeling that China is now a major power in the world, and should be treated as so.
Replying to an article about how all Chinese artifacts should be returned to the country, one user made a recent comment in the People’s Daily about how China shouldn’t even have to consider buying back any lost artifacts.
A quick poll was done at iDiaoYan.com that asked netizens what they thought about China’s search to archive the taken relics. Users seemed to be pessimistic about the project’s success, with 57.1 percent saying that it would be difficult to find and document all the looted artifacts.
Another question asked what if users though the project would help in returning artifacts to China. 58 percent said it would help a little, while 14 percent said it wouldn’t do any real benefit.
Still, 60 percent of the users in the poll, said they supported the project.
In comments made to the China Daily’s english article on the search for the relics, some netizens pointed out the benefits of having the cultural artifacts stored abroad.
Joanna 2009-10-19 17:18
i am amazed that so many relics were kept in the museums of other country, just as one of my friends said as long as the relics are well stored and some of them can be viewed for free in europe or America, it is a chance for forenginers to know more about China, especially chinese culture.
Give Credit 2009-10-19 13:27
A lot of these cultural relics were bought or stolen. However 100 years ago or even 70 years ago these treasures were lying in the original countries(when poor) as a worthless relics or art. If these cultural heritage are not “rescued” they would have been lost for ever.
Today these heritage are kept in good condition and displayed for free viewing. A good example is London Museum.