The Chinese are sending teams of investigators to Paris and London to go through leading museums in search of artifacts looted from the Old Summer Palace when it was sacked in 1860 during the Second Opium War. They hope to review 1.5 million works of art. The Telegraph is skeptical that the search is worthwhile:
The decision to try and document the millions of items now scattered round the world comes as China takes an increasing interest in retrieving artefacts that were removed from China during the colonial period and in the early 20th century.
“We don’t really know how many relics have been plundered since the catalogue of the treasures stored in the garden was burned during the catastrophe,” the palace’s current director Chen Mingjie told the state-run China Daily newspaper.
“But based on our rough calculations, about 1.5 million relics are housed in more than 2,000 museums in 47 countries.” China’s sensitivity towards such ‘looted’ treasures was demonstrated in March when a Chinese collector sabotaged the auctioning of two bronze heads taken from the Old Summer Palace, bidding £13.9m for each, but later refusing to pay. […]
“I hope they know what they’re letting themselves in for,” said James Hevia, Professor of International History at the University of Chicago and one of the world’s leading authorities on artefacts looted in 1860 and 1900, “they will need massive resources to undertake this project.” Although some relics are in clearly labelled collections, Prof Hevia added, many thousands more are in private collections having passed through countless pairs hands – either by sale or bequest – obscuring their Summer Palace origin.