China state media calls on British Museum to return artefacts

A Union Jack waves on top the British Museum as a security staff manages the flow of visitors in London

By Fan Wang

BBC News

A call for the British Museum to return Chinese artefacts after the recent alleged theft of about 2,000 items is heating up social media in the country.

The demand became the most trending topic on Weibo after an editorial in a state-run nationalist newspaper.

In the piece published on Sunday night, Global Times asked the museum to give back all Chinese cultural relics “free of charge”.

The Chinese government has not commented on the issue yet.

The BBC has reached out to the British Museum for comment but is yet to hear back.

The museum has been under pressure after around 2,000 items were reported “missing, stolen or damaged” two weeks ago.

A member of staff was sacked when the news first came out. Last week, its director Hartwig Fischer also announced he would step down.

In its article, Global Times argued that the world-renowned museum has failed to take good care of “cultural property belonging to other countries”.

“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’,” the editorial reads.

The British Museum has the biggest collection of Chinese antiquities in the West. According to its website, it has about 23,000 Chinese objects, spanning from the Neolithic age to the present.

These include a large range of precious items such as paintings, prints, jade, bronzes and ceramics. One of the most famous is the reproduction of a scroll called “Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies”, a masterpiece considered a milestone in Chinese art history.

This is not the first time Chinese netizens have called on the British Museum to return artefacts in recent years amid a rise in nationalist sentiment.

But the editorial on the suspected thefts has sparked more conversation this time around.

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

“Return the objects to their original owner,” a comment liked by more than 32,000 times reads.

“Now that the country is rich and the people are strong, it’s time to have our treasures back home,” another top comment says.

While tens of thousands support Global Times’ request, some others were not as impressed.

“Why don’t you make a trip to the UK for our treasures? Just shouting on Weibo domestically is just playing safe and shameless,” a post liked by more than 10,000 times says. caption,

Watch: The British Museum’s missing-items scandal in 91 seconds

The Global Times, known for its hawkish views, has led the charge in publishing English-language editorials attacking the West, particularly in recent years amid China’s deteriorating relationship with the West.

It is not clear whether the Chinese government will take any action following the calls.

But asking the museum to return artefacts is a sentiment not limited to China.

Following reports that artefacts had been stolen, other countries have also said the British Museum can no longer be trusted with their antiquities.

The Greek government, which has been asking for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles, renewed those calls this week.

Greece’s Minister of Culture, Lina Mendoni was quoted as saying that the security questions raised by the missing objects “reinforces the permanent and just demand of our country for the definitive return” of the Elgin marbles.

Nigerian officials have also called on the museum to return the Benin Bronzes taken from the Benin kingdom that now lies within its territory.

Tim Loughton MP, the Conservative chairman of the all party parliamentary group for the museum, has called such demands “opportunistic”.

He told the BBC that other countries should be “rallying around to help retrieve objects instead of trying to take advantage”.

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