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Archive for the ‘Different Perspectives’ Category

…I just twittered a SAFECORNER post that has to do with FAKES on the Antiquities Market, and it has gotten me thinking: IF people were some how able to create accurate and authentic reproductions of ancient relics that are free of temporal or stylistic inconsistencies (already kind of a pipe dream), would it be entirely wrong to use these reproductions as teaching tools? Could they be put on display at at museums as long as they were clearly labelled as reproductions in order not to mislead the public?

I think it could be an interesting way to make sure authentic artifacts are not put in harms way. In addition, the idea that they could be used to deter real looting is more than a little intriguing.

Then again, IF they could be used as a mechanism to stop actual looting, how would we go about establishing it? I would like to learn more about the role of forgeries on the antiquities market and whether or not they are truly as insidious as some people claim they are, and if there is really some kind of untapped cultural heritage protection tool that we can begin to exploit…

What are your thoughts?

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Reactions and comments on two articles that have recently come out, one in the British newspaper, The Telegraph, and the other just today in the New York Times have garnerd a great deal of public opinion.

Trolling the comments pages is fascinating because it allows us to guage how the general public feels about these issues, and whether or not they are aware of any potential truths and falsehoods behind the rather succinct reports.

If you haven’t yet read the articles, I have linked to them above.

And for those of you who have read the articles, but don’t have the time or energy to troll through pages and pages of what other people write, I have selected a few choice excerpts to display here.

From The Telegraph article:

My prediction is that in 50 years time, Britain will not be in a position to say no to the return of the artifacts. The balance of power is inexorably shifting from West to East and all the arguments based on right will be eventually settled by might, as they have been since the beginning of history. – H. Yates

It’s about time that these artifacts be returned to their countries of origin. The British and French have no right to them. Besides, it would do French and British culture some good, the returned artifacts will make room for native French and British artifacts. China should join with Italy, Greece, Iraq, Egypt, Iran, and any other country who has artifacts looted by these two imperial powers and demand their cultural heritage back. And united front in this matter would be the best strategy. – Old School

please respect the research team.Their mission is to document not to ask for return.So just focus on it.
It is a great and difficult task to show the whole pictures of that invasion history, which shall not be forgotten . – Nikita

I think the artifacts should stay where they are. The British museum has taken better care of them than the chinese would have. If the chinese government is taking an interest in it’s history, it should be thanking the museums and private collectors who have been preserving chinese artifacts. If these artifacts had been left in china, they most likely would have been destroyed in the cultural revolution. The fact that they are in museums in britain is the only reason that they still exist today. – Dave

Of course EVERYTHING looted should be returned. Museums would be emptied until copies could be made. But, the originals should be returned. It is an arrogant response to state “we took good care of them” Since they belong to other countries, we stole them. It’s that simple. Even if they were destroyed and lost by staying in the country of origin, it is the business of that country. Not ours. When I see people use any excuse to drag Tibet or Taiwan into this argument I have the same response. Not your business. Not mine. It is the business of China. I also wonder how we would feel if China or Iraq or any other country were to start poking noses into UK affairs or policies. Send it all back to the country of origin, with apologies for being thieving bastards. Say we are more civilized now, our ancestors were not. – Dave T.

From The New York Times article:

One must wonder how many of these art treasures would have survived Mao’s Red Guard while they mindlessly destroyed all evidence of the “old ways”….China has a long memory when they wish to bring to the attention of the western countries that they were exploited…China has a convenient memory when it suits them. – Hooter

Beijing’s determination to reclaim its cultural heritage would bear a good deal more credibility if they’d stop ransaking the culture of their own Tibetan and Uighur minorities. – Stu Freeman

…the Chinese want to portray themselves as victims of colonial aggression – Andy

Actually, I, as a citizen of the socalled People’s Republic of China,completely agree that those antiquities are better to be preserved in the great USA museums.With good,scientific,well-intended caring and highly-efficient study,they can be in a greater situation of protection and of greater use and value.
I fundamentally disagree with the visit of the delegation…I want to ask that who payed for the fees of the “reclaiming”?…why dot’t you(the communists of CPC) put the money to render better protection of the remnants of relics at home? ……Are the untold number of antiquities and relice ruined in the notorious Cultural Revolution more vulueable and treasurous than those plundered from Yuanmingyuan? And……who should be responsible for ruining and destroying so many great antiquities in the damned Cultural Revolution? Maybe we should hold a debate at home instead of going abroad in vain! – Isaac

This bemused and farcical account does a great disservice to readers who rely on the New York Times for objective and insightful journalism.
The Summer Palace was not just a single palace, but rather, an 860-acre estate which served as one of the world’s foremost repositories of art and architecture. In terms of its cultural and administrative importance, the Summer Palace stood in contrast to the “Winter Palace,” which is a famous structure shown in many postcards today depicting Beijing tourist sites.
The Summer Palace was plundered, five hundred of its unarmed custodians were massacred or driven out, and its buildings were burned to the ground during the Second Opium War by French and English troops on the orders of the eighth Earl of Elgin (ironically, the son of the seventh Lord Elgin infamous for relieving the Parthenon of its marble friezes).
Lord Elgin’s orders were issued when the Chinese Imperium refused to allow the sale of narcotics in their land. To provide an imperfect fictional modern analogy, imagine if a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan (and not the U.S.) were the world’s foremost superpower, and then imagine if Afghan forces marched a “world coalition” into Vatican City, stole or destroyed all of the art and relics there, murdered the clergy, and then dropped an atomic bomb on the city because the Holy See refused to allow Taliban drug cartels to traffic heroin in the streets of Vatican City. Just as we would be appalled and outraged by such an occurrence for generations to come, the citizens of China understandably remain appalled and outraged by the destruction of the Summer Palace.

The tone of the article conveys little sympathy with the Chinese perspective of things. It dismissively characterizes the delegation’s work as “a spectacle sponsored by a Chinese liquor company,” recounts the delegation’s activities in a most diminutive way (e.g., “The Chinese pronounced themselves satisfied, smiled for a group photo, and drove away.”), and gives great weight to reports of ulterior motives in the delegation’s mission…….As the NYT’s own columnist Thomas Friedman admonishes, we live in a globalized economy where an accurate understanding of other cultural perspectives is imperative to professional success and successful economic engagement. By portraying China in such a buffoonish way on a matter of great importance, and by downplaying the very human yearning of the Chinese people for redress of a serious crime committed against their nation and their forefathers, this article performs a great disservice upon its readers and falls far short of the high standards of journalism which the paper professes. – Dexter H.

They certainly have played up the repatriation of relics in recent months, and there is not a shadow of a doubt in my mind that this tour was as motivated by politics as any genuine hope of reclaiming stolen history. I also realize that the Summer Palace museum is in need of a modern overhaul, and that chances are most of the looted items are in private collections today (though, I’d bet that they are far more successful in the UK and France than the US, being that those countries were the actual perpetrators of the looting). However, despite these problems, I think this is overall a good quest. – Shanghai Expat

Why not cooperte with the chinese government and jointly devise a plan to uncover and resolve any issue with the “looted” chinese treasuries if there is one. There is a lot of history and cultural significance in these objects. And China probably is the best to find out the historical significance and value in the chinese and the world history. – Jim

..and so on.

Take a gander at the articles if you are interested in this ongoing saga. Or better yet, check out an upcoming post on the SAFE blog, SAFECORNER, written by yours truly that will be coming out in the next few days.

If these article piqued your fancy, you might also be interested in reading about the views and positions of various Chinese Nationals about China purchasing looted Qing Dynasty antiquities, much like the ones they are currently surveying and examining in the West.

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Just found THIS article published in February on popular Chinese popnews website ChinaSMACK about the Christie’s auction of two of the now pretty well known bronze zodiac animal heads that were looted from Beijing’s Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan) during the 1860s by the British and French armies.

The article is interesting for several reasons. First, it provides, very clearly, Chinese netizen reactions not only to the act of looting itself, but to the idea of buying back China’s patrimony, especially under such widely publicized conditions.

Reading the comments (they have been translated into English, so don’t worry), it seems very obvious that there are several sides to the debate. On the one hand, there are many young Chinese nationals who believe that no matter what, the heads should be bought back because not doing so would be a blow to Chinese nationalism; these same people are generally quite angry over what they see as deliberate insults to China on the part of France (in particular). On the other hand, some nationals don’t really care either way, and even seem to question the point of reclaiming what they call “copper faucets,” especially since the Chinese government is now wealthy enough that they could “make them in pure gold.” Still others take a more middle ground, and whilst supporting the Chinese government’s demand to buy the heads back, also admit that there are bigger “cultural relics” than these relatively young specimens that China should be focusing on.

Here are some examples of the comments to tantalize your tastebuds:

What is the use of spending so much money to get these back? Aren’t they just copper faucets? With 200 million, we can make them in pure gold. There are so many national treasures out there, why just focus on these two?

When did those things become China’s national treasures? Were it not for us buying a few of them a few years ago, who would care about this? Just look at how much the prices have grown over these past few years! They are just waiting for us to go waste our money! It would be better for us to care about those real national treasures that have been lost overseas!

Seeing China’s plundered cultural relics being auctioned is as if I was painfully seeing the shadow of the time period our ancestors were killed, robbed, and pillaged!!! It cannot be like this!!! Now the French want to again hurt the Chinese people a second time!!!
French people, how can you be this way!!!
This is the benefit that the French people chase after??? What benefit can the French people get from hurting the Chinese people’s genuine feelings!!!
The Chinese people cannot agree to this!!!
Resolutely oppose!!

Read the full article to get all the juicy debate details.

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Check out THIS article that was posted in the New York Times this morning about grassroots organizations against looting in Peru, Mali, and Iraq.

It’s a little off topic from the usual fare on this blog, but I think its worthwhile to examine what people in other countries are doing about archaeological site looting.

Plus, the article is written by Roger Atwood, whose book, Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World, is one of the best contributions to the raising of awareness about the topic in the last few years.

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On August 1st, Ana Escobedo, the magnificent high schooler from california that has been spearheading the SAVE Kashgar Facebook initiative and petition (Petition and Cause Page both linked on the RIGHT —–>) published an article on SAFECORNER about how she got involved in the Kashgar initiative, and what protecting worthwhile cultural heritage sites means to her. Check out her well-written article HERE.

I have selected and reproduced here a few choice excerpts from her essay in order to tantalize your reader tastebuds:

To raise awareness for the cause and to rally supporters behind SAFE’s message I created a Facebook Cause page which I named “Save Kashgar ”. I loaded it with whatever information I had available to me at the time, which was only a few articles and the information I had gained from the SAFECORNER editorial. Later I was able to set up a Flickr group to create a photo documentation of the Old City. I also set up a petition appealing to the Chinese Cultural Minister to save what remained of the cultural heritage of this city. However, it quickly became apparent to me that this was so much more than a demolition of a city. It was the destruction of the Uyghur culture. A culture that had existed for hundreds of years in this location was being wiped out.

In an effort to find recruits to my newly formed cause page I reached out to the Uyghur and Archaeology related groups on Facebook. It was at this moment when I discovered I was not alone in this fight. I went to every group I could think of to let them know about what I was doing, but everywhere I went I found links to other Kashgar related Facebook pages. Groups such as “Save Kashgar, Xinjiang, China from Demolition!” and “Saving Kashgar” encouraged followers to raise their voices against the destruction. The creator of “Save Kashgar, Xinjiang, China from Demolition!,” Nikhat Rasheed, is responsible for aYouTube video further demonstrating the importance of Kashgar to the Uyghurs and the world. Her group has also sponsored an event in Toronto, Canada to show solidarity with the Uyghur people. On July 1, 2009, a group of Uyghurs performed a traditional dance in celebration of Canada Day. Members of this Facebook group attended, furthering the public display of unity with the Uyghur cause. Ms. Rasheed has also written a wildly popular petition that has raised almost 7,000 signatures in a short period of time. Another Facebook Cause page “Save Kashgar!,” created by dedicated advocate Miriam J. Woods, has generated a petition that has already received over 1,000 signatures. This petition asks President Obama and Congress to appeal to the Chinese government to cease the demolition. Her cause page is raising money for the Uyghur American Association/Uyghur Human Rights Project.

Before I saw the issue from my point of view as an archaeologist, but after these varied and passionate communications I saw that this was a human crisis. What has amazed me most over these past two months has been the number of people reaching out to me, telling me their story, letting me know that Kashgar was important to them too.

People like Marc Forster, the filmmaker responsible for films such as “Monster’s Ball,” “Finding Neverland” and “Quantum of Solace” are rallying behind the cause.

Kashgar has evoked an impassioned and ever-growing response, in me and many others. More and more people from around the world are reaching out and speaking out against this demolition and the destruction of a culture.

As for me, my heart goes out the Uyghurs who are losing the heart of their civilization. I will continue to support in the best way I can. My cause page is closing in on 700 members and it is my hope that I can continue to reach these people and keep them united in this work against this cultural and human crime.

Thanks Ana, for sharing with us not only your experience working on this important project, but also helping to organize and unite all the different interest groups so that we may have a common goal.

– Chiarch

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Today, the official statement of concern about the ongoing demolition of Old Kashgar was released by SAFE (Saving Antiquities for Everyone). It can be found HERE.

The letter is addressed to  Mr. Francesco Bandarin, the director of UNESCO World Heritage based in Paris, France, which is in charge of the nomination of World Heritage sites around the world. The Silk Road has been on the nomination list for several years, and this letter urges the World Heritage committee to reconsider adding Kashgar to The Silk Road nomination (the reasons for why Kashgar was not orignally a part of the Silk Road package speaks volumes about how political these nominations can be…).

A copy of the letter has reproduced here. Just for you. Enjoy, and once again, please sign the petitions linked in the right-hand columns of this page if you want to voice your concerns about the destruction of archaoelogical and cultural heritage in Kashgar.

THROUGH COORDINATED ACTION AND MEASURED DIALOG, THE UNDERSIGNED BELIEVE THAT WE CAN SAVE ONE THE JEWELS OF THE SILK ROAD BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE.

July 6, 2009
Mr. Francesco Bandarin
Director
UNESCO World Heritage Centre
7, place de Fontenoy
75352 Paris, France

Dear Mr. Bandarin:

We write to convey our profound concern for the ancient city of Kashgar in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of Northwest China and urge you to exert your influence to have the city included in the Chinese portion of the Silk Road being considered for the World Heritage List.

Reportedly, 85% of the ancient portion of the city is under demolition. The stated reason is that the old buildings are susceptible to earthquakes and pose a danger to residents. Though we support taking measures to ensure the safety of citizens, we are concerned that the demolition of Old Kashgar will deal a serious blow to the cultural heritage and archaeological patrimony of the Uyghur people, China, and all mankind.

Since Old Kashgar was a key transit point on the Northern Steppe Route of the Silk Road, it is startling to discover that this fabled oasis city has not been included in the World Heritage List proposal. Besides having been an important Silk Road trading post, Old Kashgar is an historic center of Islamic and Uyghur culture, being the home of China’s largest mosque as well as the holiest Muslim site in Xinjiang, the tomb of Abakh Khoja. According to historian George Michell, author of the 2008 book Kashgar: Oasis City on China’s Old Silk Road, Old Kashgar is “the best preserved example of a traditional Islamic city to be found anywhere in Central Asia.”

Given the city’s vast tangible and intangible cultural heritage, we believe that considering the Silk Road for the World Heritage List without including Old Kashgar would be an incomplete designation. According to the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, “To be deemed of outstanding universal value, a property must also meet the conditions of integrity and/or authenticity and must have adequate protection and management system to ensure its safeguarding.” We believe Old Kashgar meets the criteria for cultural heritage under the Assessment of Outstanding Universal Value.

China’s present treatment of Kashgar is all the more perplexing when one considers that as recently as 2007, the country appeared to be committed to preserving the old city in a way that respected its heritage and complied with international expectations. In that year, according to published reports, the Xinjiang Construction Department organized a group of experts to begin assessing an urban preservation plan for Kashgar. Among the topics discussed were how to preserve the old town, how to further study the relationship between Kashgar’s modern condition and its rich cultural past, and how to protect Kashgar’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

The fact that this seminar was held with official sanction proves that China is capable of protecting historical sites within its borders if it so chooses. In fact, Chinese law supports our view. Articles 16-18 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China for the Protection of Cultural Relics, as amended and adopted in 2002, stipulate that protective measures for immovable cultural relics must be taken before beginning any and all construction activities, including drilling, digging, or blasting. These articles also require that devices for the preservation of cultural relics must be included in the design plan of any new construction project undertaken.

So China has a demonstrable commitment to protecting her past. What the country needs now is international support. Thus we ask the World Heritage Convention to confer with its colleagues in China to clarify the plans for Kashgar’s fate, and also to reconsider including this important historical site as part of the Chinese portion of the Silk Road nominated for World Heritage Site status.

In addition, we respectfully urge the World Heritage Convention to try to persuade the Chinese authorities to heed the Xinjiang Construction Department’s suggestions to either preserve Kashgar or conduct salvage archaeology to mitigate the destruction. For example: has a detailed photographic survey or documentation of Old Kashgar been conducted so that it would be possible to reconstruct the ancient quarter?

Finally, we urge the Chinese government to consider conducting a serious evaluation of the cultural and historical importance of what is left of Old Kashgar, utilizing professional archaeologists in the area and volunteer experts who, we are convinced, will consult if given the opportunity. Not doing so would violate the spirit and letter of the World Heritage Convention.

In so many other contexts, the Chinese government has shown it knows the country’s past belongs to all the Chinese people and indeed all the people of the world. It is important that the material remains of China’s long and illustrious past be protected, conserved, and studied so that the world might know of its great contributions to human society. Destroying the ancient portions of Kashgar without first undertaking a comprehensive photographic survey and salvage archaeology will damage China’s reputation for scholarship and result in the loss of an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of China’s role in the history of Central Asia. It is for these reasons that we voice our very grave concerns about the destruction of Old Kashgar.

Respectfully,


Dr. Claire Alix, Research Associate, Alaska Quaternary Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Dr. Graeme Barker, Director, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research

Joyce Clark, Board member of Heritage Watch

Lawrence S. Coben, Executive Director, Sustainable Preservation Initiative

Dr. Clemency Coggins, Professor of Archaeology and of Art History, Boston University

Dr. Margaret Conkey, President, The Society for American Archaeology

Dr. Laura Flusche, Assistant Academic Dean, University of Dallas

Dr. Donny George, Stony Brook University, former Director of the Iraq Museum

Cindy Ho, President, SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone

Dr. David Koester, Director of Global Studies and Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Dr. Richard M. Leventhal, Cultural Heritage Center at Penn, University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Tod A. Marder, Professor II, Department of Art History, Director, Certificate Program in Historic Preservation, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Susan McCabe, President, Society for Asian Art

Dr. Dougald O’Reilly, Director, Heritage Watch

Dr. Richard M. Pettigrew, President and Executive Director, Archaeological Legacy Institute

Professor Lord Colin Renfrew, Senior Fellow, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research

Dr. C. Brian Rose, President, Archaeological Institute of America

Dr. Lawrence Rothfield, former Director, Cultural Policy Center, University of Chicago

Dr. Lucille A. Roussin, J.D.

Dr. Donald H. Sanders, President, The Institute for the Visualization of History, Inc.

Barnea Levi Selavan, Co-Director, Foundation Stone

Alim Seytoff, General Secretary, Uyghur American Association/Uyghur Human Rights Project, Representative for the World Uyghur Congress and the International Uyghur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation

Dr. Charles Stanish, Director, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA

Dr. Gil J. Stein, Director, the Oriental Institute and Professor, University of Chicago

Nadia Tarzi, Executive Director Association for the Protection of Afghan Archaeology

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Most of you should be aware, by now, of the protests against ethnic discrimination and religious intolerance that are currently going on in Urumqi, the capital city of the Chinese province of Xinjiang.

My question is: what, if any, reprocussions does this have on the cultural heritage of the area? specifically, the ongoing demolition of the Old City of Kashgar (seen on the map below)?

Image taken from the Washingtonpost.com

Image taken from the Washingtonpost.com

First, a little background: For the past three days, violence has beeen erupting between the Han Chinese and the Uighurs, who area Turkic ethnic group and practice Islam, but who have inhabited the Xinjiang area for millenia.

The clashes have been over, primarily, the increasing marginalization felt by the Uighurs at the hand of the Han Chinese. They (the Uighurs) feel that they have been suppressed and overruled in what they consider to be their own territory by the Han Chinese who are ethnically different, do not practice their religion, do no speak Uighur language, and deny them access to fair competition in education and business.

Until recent years, the province of Xinjiang was only lightly inhabited by Han Chinese because of its arid climate and desert terrain (the feared Taklamakan Desert of Central Asian fame makes up the heart of this province) and its distance from major Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai. For the most part, this area was left to the Uighur population to inhabit as they have been for centuries (hence: Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region). However, in the last couple of decades, more and more Han Chinese have settled in the region, mostly on govt. incentives (sort of the way Tibet has been settled by Han Chinese who were bussed in from Sichuan). It seems as though here is another veiled attempt at suppression through ethnic majority, something that has become somewhat of China’s M.O. for dealing with ethnic minorities in their border regions (Tibet being a case-in-point).

But what reprocussions might this ethnic clash have on the area besides a political and media nightmare? Well, if you recall the contents of several previous posts on this blog, as well as THIS news article, you’ll remember that the ancient city of Kashgar is located in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Now, the demolition of the majority of Kashgar’s Old City, the historic district in the very centre of the modern city of Kashgar where most of the historic and archaeological remains of Islamic and Uighur culture are situated, has been going on for months (and has been years in the making), and until the recent violence, it has all but been forgotten by western media. I do not believe, however, that the two incidents are unrelated.

It may very well be that part of what fuels the anger felt by the Uighurs towards the Han Chinese includes the demolition of Kashgar’s Old City. To them, the destruction of Old Kashgar might have been the last straw in a slow and drawn-out silent extermination of their culture. A straw that may have served to incite anger in those who feel wronged by the Han Chinese and the Chinese government.

Unfortunately, it may very well be too late for what remains of Kashgar’s Old Town (as supposedly, 85% of the historic district has already been destroyed), but does the recent uproar from the Uighur community against complete ethnic integration and assimilation mean that more historic districts are soon to be torn down? Will the protests only serve to expedite the controlled destruction of cultural heritage in the Xinjiang area? The current progression of events in Xinjiang, especially Wang Lequan’s hardline policies towards the suppression of potential Uighur seperatists, do not make me hopeful that something like the protection of archaeological heritage will rank high on anyone’s list.

It is unfortunate that in many cases, especially in countries where totalitarianism reigns supreme, that archaeological and cultural patrimony fall victim to political whims. The legacy of Central Asia, an area of the world where whispered political struggles have been played out silently for centuries, has been savagely compromised at the hands of changing political regimes. It is unfortunate that such a rich historical and archaeological cache is slowly being destroyed without much of a chance for salvage.

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