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Tomb Robberies in China: Not Effectively Prohibited after a Decade, Nor Enough Attention Given

Starting from the early 1990s, robberies of ancient Chinese cultural relic remains and tombs became more and more rampant. By the end of the 1990s, Chinese archeologists couldn’t find tombs or cemeteries that were fully intact. As a result of the frenzied plunder, significant details about important historical eras, such as the Liao Dynasty founded in northern China, can only be speculated upon. 
 
Presently, tomb robbers are targeting shipwrecks in addition to the tombs. What is the situation like now? No one can tell. What we know is that this issue is not receiving the attention it should. Guardians of cultural relic sites in Shaanxi have not recovered from their wounds inflicted by robbers. After that, a Qing Dynasty wrecked ship was ransacked again, losing over 10,000 pieces of the blue and white porcelain of the Kangxi reign. When cultural relic collectors and dealers direct laborers to rob the porcelains in the sea, they rarely fear being punished by the law or government authorities, because past experience tells them that the law enforcement sectors of the government will not show up promptly.
 
Law legislators have obviously noticed the existence of the problem. A search of the relevant regulations shows that the legal protection afforded to underground cultural relics is very strict, and punishment of tomb robbers is very severe. The regulations on the collection, trade and traffic of cultural relics in China are similar to those of the developed world. According to foreign media, the domestic cultural relic protection administrative is working closely and actively with a few foreign countries, including the United States, to draft a bilateral agreement to jointly crack down on and prevent cultural relic smuggling. No doubt, the bias of the law is positive and clear, and the government’s approach is becoming more proactive than before.
 
To discuss this issue today, we must make two important facts clear. Firstly, the aforementioned laws are not being properly implemented. When we compare in accordance to the “Law of Cultural Relic Protection”, “Implementation Regulation of the Law of Cultural Relic Protection” and the “Criminal Law”, we find that there is still much room for the government to improve. Many practices that we witness every day are in fact strictly prohibited by the law. Secondly, the regulation of law has not been implemented largely because the relevant cultural relic administrative departments have no such capability. We can say with certainty that our cultural relic administrative departments, the main law enforcement party, lose points in all aspects from the number of staff, financial and equipment support to technology support. Ten years ago, the cultural relic robbers were able to exploit a wrecked ship of the Song Dynasty, but even now, there is not even one single boat dedicated to the protection of the underwater cultural relics all over China. The lack of competence of the cultural relic administrative departments also reflects in the area of the setup of the administrative organs. For example, the responsibilities of a few law enforcement institutions have been clearly stated in a law approved a few decades ago, but these institutions are still not in existence even today. This sort of thing looks like a joke, but is harsh reality.
 
It is a very difficult mission to completely stamp out the criminals robbing Chinese ancient cultural relic remains, the ancient tombs and cemeteries. However, if the law is not enforced, the responsibilities of the government as provided by law are not fulfilled, and the capability of the cultural relic administrative departments are not improved, then tomb robbery practice can hardly be effectively prevented. Everyone agrees that the history of China is an uninterrupted one, but due to the unbridled tomb robberies, this continuity is now disappearing. Who should then be responsible?
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