In an interview published on Monday in the influential Communist Party newspaper the Study Times, Director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage Li Xiaoji said the situation he faced in trying to protect the country’s culture was “severe”.
From 2009 to 2014, police uncovered more than 7,000 cases of cultural artefacts being stolen, smuggled out of the country or otherwise plundered, especially tombs, Li told the newspaper, published by the Central Party School which trains rising officials.
“These criminal activities are organised, use high technology and violence, and steal to order,” Li said, adding that efforts to crack down on such activity had achieved some results but that the road ahead would be difficult.
An "ink on silk" artefact preserved in a museum after it was excavated from a tomb in Hunan province decades ago. Many other artefacts across China are plundered or destroyed. Photo: SCMP Pictures
Another problem was that some local governments seemed not to care about the treasures in their jurisdiction, or simply lacked the ability to look after them.
“In some culturally protected areas or where there are construction controls, there is illegal construction, damaging the historical features, including the treasures themselves. Some precious ancient sites and buildings have vanished beneath bulldozers,” Li said.
In many cases, the damage was actually caused by local governments and officials, he said.
But this was hardly surprising as his administration lacked the people and funds to protect cultural artefacts, and in four provinces, there were fewer than 10 people in the job, Li said.
Some parts of China that were particularly rich in cultural heritage had no dedicated officials working to protect the treasures, the cultural heritage chief added.
There was also a huge funding gap, especially in poorer central and western regions, Li said.
[Image caption: Thousands of cultural artworks on display at a museum in China. Photo: Simon Song]