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.