The fourth International Conference of Experts on the Return of Cultural Property, undertaken by the Gansu Administration of Cultural Heritage and Dunhuang Research Academy, opened in Dunhuang, Gansu on Sept 9. Li Xiaojie, vice minister of the Ministry of Culture and director of State Administration of Cultural Heritage, attended the conference and delivered a speech. Themed with the protection and return of the stolen archaeological heritage, the three-day conference initiated extensive discussions on regional cooperative mechanisms and problems in legal and technological dimensions.
According to Li, some of the Chinese cultural heritage stored overseas is legally collected through normal purchase, which has a positive impact on spreading Chinese civilization and promoting cultural exchanges between West and East. Items illegally obtained are mainly divided into two types: those looted by gangster states from the end of the Qing Dynasty to the anti-Japanese war period, and those ransacked, stolen and smuggled overseas.
Li also mentioned that there are three ways of returning cultural heritage. First, it can be returned by force of diplomatic powers under the framework of international laws. International society has enacted international treaties, aimed to fight cultural heritage crimes and facilitate its return. Second, by judicial force. Lawsuits can be filed in the courts of the countries which cultural heritage was looted. Third, it is by personal force. Folk society has a positive influence on the return of cultural heritage with many patriots taking the initiative to donate lost cultural heritage.
“2014 has been a historical year when it comes to this problem," Li said. “The international society has reached a consensus on cracking down on cultural heritage trafficking and reforming the existing international convention, and has made a historical breakthrough. The experts and representatives from different countries gather in Dunhuang at such an important historical moment, talking about the legal and technological problems in the protection and the return of cultural heritage as well as new methods and new ideas of solving these problems. All these discussions will be pieced together into ‘Dunhuang declaration’.”
“Dunhuang Declaration” is expected to improve the 1970 Convention (“Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property”) and promote the return of the lost cultural heritage.