Published  06/03/2006

Cultural exchange

The British Museum is poised to lend some 270 of its valuable hoard of historic artefacts to the Capital Museum in Beijing. This cultural exchange follows on from the exhibition from China, currently at the Royal Academy of Arts, 'The Three Emperors'. The planned exhibition, which should run from 18 March to 5 June 2006, is recognised by China and Britain as expanding the new spirit of fruitful exchange. Egyptian relics, Greek figures, and even what is thought to be the world's most ancient tool, will all be housed and displayed in the new Capital Museum. Some works of Korean and Japanese art to be included will also intrigue the Chinese curators. The director of the Museum, Guo Xiaoling, admits that questions persist over ownership, reflecting the manner in which, throughout the 19th century, the British Museum accumulated works from many countries that had not yet established proper legal title and control themselves over the works. By exhibiting such works, China admits, they might appear to be condoning disputed ownerships. A cool wind seems to blow from the China Cultural Relics Recovery Programme, headed by Zhang Yongnian, established in 2002. He refers to the many Chinese treasures taken during the Opium War and other looting when the Communist Party first came to power. They say that the British Museum is 'opposed to the restitution of all artefacts to the home countries which can better look after them'. Now, discussions are proposed to resolve the whole subject, but, in the meantime, exchanges such as these will continue.

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