Monday, March 3, 2014

Weekly Article Review by Carly

A Renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding

   How do we stop looting, and illegal import/export of culturally significant items? In an effort to curb smuggling problems in China, the US has renewed the Memorandum of Understanding for another five years. This is a continuation of the agreement that had originally been signed in 2009. The hope of the agreement is to make it more difficult for smugglers to find a market for the items, and stop the further destruction of archeological sites within China. The items included in the list are any objects from the Paleolithic era through the Tang dynasty (ca. 75,000 BCE through 907 AD) and any wall art or sculptures older than 250 years. The agreement also includes steps to educate both the US and China’s general public on what a heritage item is, and the importance of its preservation.
   This article brought to my attention how truly difficult it must be to control what types of items are coming and going across the borders of any country, especially ones as large as the United States and China. The MOU seems like a step in the right direction, providing the educational knowledge and awareness of the problem at hand, but the bulk of the problem has nothing to do with the United States. James Lily (a New York based Asian art dealer) commented that “US buying only accounts for 5%” of the market, with the majority of the market being controlled by Chinese buyers. Chinese government officials had agreed to increase their own regulations and protection of the antiquities in the hopes that the illegal trading within China could begin to be controlled. The debate continues on whether these steps have been taken and if they are effective or not.
   As a side note, I feel the purpose of the US participation in this agreement is to keep a stable relationship with the Chinese people. Through the MOU the US benefits by having more access to Chinese antiquities for display within our own museums and scholarly collaborations.     

For further information…. See the link below to an article that was published by the Archeological Institute of America after the original signing of the MOU in 2009.


  1. Prior to reading this article, I had no idea about smuggling art out of China for profit. I agree with this article in its believing that this import deal can help China increase their cultural heritage protection, and am actually quite astounded that they haven't had tighter reins on this to begin with. However, I do not agree with this article in the sense that it will stop smuggling within China's borders, as the article clearly states "China is… the major market for Chinese antiquities.” Although this importing deal helps keep America's hands clean, how can China begin to slow the looting of archaeological sites for artifacts that don't leave the country?

  2. The agreement seems to ensure that art stays in circulation inside of China, regardless of how legal the circulation is. Given that the majority of the burden sees to have been be placed on American private business owners, it would seem that the agreement is in place to keep China happy. The agreement does not seem to be productive in ending the problem at the source. If China was doing a better job at preventing the looting of their cultural sites, then they would not need to worry about stolen items entering the US. The overall nature of the agreement seems foolish and like a waste of time and resources to me.

  3. I never knew that so much stolen chineese art has been sold in the US. I think it is important to stop this problem. It is good that the US is working with China. There needs to be a better way to stop the looting in China. Only 5% of the art is sold in America, that means that this law only stops a small amount of the problem. I think that chineese culture is very important to their people and that they will eventualy make more laws to protect it. for now it is good that at least the US is doing their best keep stolen art out of the country. We are still on good terms with china and once they figure out a way to stop the looting, their amazing culture will be able to be appreciated by the rest of the world too.

  4. I think that this issue is surprisingly not taken care of yet to the degree that I thought it was. I think about Egypt, and how the tombs had been ransacked, and that makes me angry. I'm not quite sure why, but Asian culture does not mean nearly as much to me, but the concept is the exact same. And part of me wants to separate from the situation, and what I mean by that, is that this MOU agreement in activation may help to keep America on a cleaner path in terms of international cultural theft, and on better standing with other countries and cultures that witness this attempt. But the other part of me thinks, good for China, being irresponsible and letting their own history and past get mixed around in the elite's collections and possibly in their own museums. I know that these artifacts are being taken and sold, and hidden from their public, but the Chinese government obviously doesn't seem to want to show fair consideration to their own citizens, and is letting the rich play with what they will, that's mature! It is extremely unfortunate however, when looking at it from a global scale in the earth's various human cultures. Regardless, I agree with Eric and think is could be considered a waste, but the first few tries at anything usually are. They also led to the real attempts that succeed!

  5. The stealing and illegal importation of art & artifacts from other countries seems to be inevitable. It has come to my attention, since taking this class, that people just can't be trusted when it comes to priceless or very expensive artwork. This agreement between China and the U.S. looks good on paper and probably keeps the peace between us but it also looks like it's just on paper. It probably curbs illegal trading but it seems that nothing can stop it. I haven't decided yet whether or not I believe that art should stay in it's own country. It does make it difficult for the rest of the world to appreciate it when we have to go to the original country just to see it. That still makes the appreciation of art for the elite rich that can afford to travel all over the world. As long as this MOU agreement makes China happy, I guess that is good for our political relations and I beieve that is what is really at stake here. It also seems that the artwork of China is just for the elite rich in their own country too. I love the fact that we are free to visit art museums in this country whenever we want (even though we have to pay for some) but The Met is the only one I have ever visited that could show so many different cultures in one place. Most museums just have a few exhibits and I'm pretty happy to see whatever I'm able to see!

  6. Much to my surprise I had no idea that any of this was even an issue in the art world. Its amazing to me that great amounts of artwork from china are being stolen and sold. I think its a bit embarrassing that bills have to be put in place in order to regulate such items. Heritage should stay where it belongs, thats it home, there shouldn't even be an argument to be had. I do find it interesting that in the article it was stated that “this has created and uneven playing field in which US museums, collectors and dealers are harmed and China’s elite-run monopoly businesses thrive”. Art is a shared love, it shouldn't be fought over and undermined.