Chinese State Media Calls for Return of Artefacts from British Museum

Chinese state media has demanded the return of its artefacts from the British Museum without any cost, following the theft scandal that revealed over 1,500 priceless objects missing from the museum. The nationalist Global Times formally requested the return of all Chinese cultural relics acquired through improper channels and urged the museum to avoid a resistant attitude. These calls for the return of relics coincide with James Cleverly’s anticipated visit to China, making him the first foreign secretary in five years to visit Beijing.

Earlier this month, it was reported that nearly 2,000 objects worth millions of pounds were stolen or destroyed by a single thief who remained undetected by the museum for years. The missing and damaged items included gold jewelry, semi-precious stones, and ancient artifacts as old as 3,500 years. The full extent of the losses may never be known due to gaps in the museum’s inventory.

The controversy surrounding the theft made global headlines and attracted the attention of Chinese media, which has previously raised the question of restituting China’s relics. The Global Times criticized the British Museum’s management and security of cultural objects, stating that it exposed long-standing claims of better protection of foreign cultural objects in the museum. The Chinese government has not made any public statements on the matter.

The British Museum houses approximately 23,000 Chinese objects, including items from the Tang, Shang, and Zhou dynasties, making it the largest collection of Chinese antiquities in the West. One notable piece in the collection is the reproduction of the scroll “Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies,” considered significant in Chinese art history.

The controversy sparked a viral response on Chinese social media site Weibo, with the hashtag “The British Museum please return Chinese antiquities” topping the search chart and receiving over half a billion views. China joins Greece in publicly calling for the return of its artefacts, as Greek archaeologists also renewed their demand for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures, known as the Elgin Marbles. Greece’s Minister of Culture emphasized that the missing objects reinforce their country’s permanent demand for their definitive return.