Calls for British Museum to return treasures to China after hundreds of artefacts stolen

Chinese state media has called for the return of its artefacts from the British Museum “free of charge” in the wake of the theft scandal.

It comes after revelations that more than 1,500 priceless objects have gone missing from the Bloomsbury institution in recent years.

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“We formally request the British Museum to return all Chinese cultural relics acquired through improper channels to China free of charge,” said the nationalist Global Times on Monday, urging the museum to “refrain from adopting a resistant, protracted and perfunctory attitude.”

The renewed calls for the return of the relics come ahead of an expected trip to China by James Cleverly, which would make him the first foreign secretary in five years to visit Beijing.

Earlier this month, the Telegraph disclosed that close to 2,000 objects, worth millions of pounds, were believed to have been stolen or destroyed by a single thief who went undetected by the museum for years, leaving staff shocked at the scale of the losses.

The missing and damaged items included gold jewellery, semi-precious stones and glass, and some items were 3,500 years old.

However, the full scale of the loss may never be known because of gaps in the museum’s inventory. When a storeroom of 942 uncatalogued items from the 18th century was checked, all but seven were found to be missing.

The British Museum has about 23,000 Chinese objects – including items from the Tang, Shang and Zhou dynasties Credit: TOBY MELVILLE/REUTERS

The controversy made headlines around the world, and has attracted the attention of the Chinese media, which has previously raised the question of restituting China’s relics.

“The huge loopholes in the management and security of cultural objects in the British Museum exposed by this scandal have led to the collapse of a long-standing and widely circulated claim that ‘foreign cultural objects are better protected in the British Museum’,” said the Global Times.

Accusing the UK of a “bloody, ugly and shameful colonial history”, it added that the UK should “pay back its own historical debts and take the initiative to contact and discuss with the countries that have suffered from its colonial infringement on how to return the historical loot as soon as possible”.

The Chinese government has not made any public statements on the issue. The Telegraph reached out to the British Museum for comment.

The British Museum has about 23,000 Chinese objects – including items from the Tang, Shang and Zhou dynasties

The British Museum has about 23,000 Chinese objects – including items from the Tang, Shang and Zhou dynasties – making it the biggest collection of Chinese antiquities in the West.

One of the most famous in the collection is the reproduction of a scroll called Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies, which is considered a significant part of Chinese art history.

According to its website, Chinese objects “have been a part of the British Museum since its establishment based on the collection of Sir Hans Sloane”. Sloane was an 18th century Irish physician.

Greek archaeologists renewed the country’s calls for the return of the Elgin Marbles Credit: DANIEL LEAL/AFP

The collection spans the Neolithic age to the present and includes a wide range of objects such as prints, jade, bronzes, lacquer, beautifully crafted porcelain and some of China’s oldest surviving paintings on silk.

The editorial went quickly viral on Weibo, a Chinese social media site.

Greek archaeologists renewed the country’s calls for the return of the Elgin Marbles

According to the BBC, the hashtag “The British Museum please return Chinese antiquities” topped Weibo’s search chart until noon local time on Monday, and has been viewed more than half a billion times.

One comment saying: “Return the objects to their original owner,” was liked by more than 32,000 times.

China has become the second country to publicly call for its artefacts to be returned amid the damaging scandal after Greek archaeologists renewed the country’s calls for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles.

Lina Mendoni, Greece’s minister of culture, said the security concerns raised around the missing objects “reinforces the permanent and just demand of our country for the definitive return” of the Elgin Marbles.

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