Hubei Recovers 20 Ancient Relics, 3 Tomb Raiders Arrested
Public security officials in the central Hubei province have recovered 20 ancient cultural relics after they were looted by tomb raiders and put on sale on the black market last November.
The Public Security Bureau of Xiangyang City transferred the 20 stolen bronze vessels and objects to the city museum on Tuesday, which included nine grade-one cultural relics, the highest rank for such relics.
According to experts from the Hubei Provincial Museum, the relics are burial objects from either the early Spring and Autumn period (770–476 B.C.) or the Western Zhou dynasty (1046–771 B.C.).
Most of the bronze vessels are large and intact with visible inscriptions and carvings, including animal heads, and will be presented to the public in the municipal Xiangyang Museum after repair.
Officials said that two suspects surnamed Chen had robbed the ancient tomb in mid-November, then contacted a middleman surnamed Li to look for buyers.
Local police seized the relics at the abandoned warehouse where the transaction was taking place and arrested the three men.
Municipal officials said this was the biggest case involving stolen cultural relics in the city since 2010, without disclosing how much the relics are worth.
All nine recovered grade-one relics have inscriptions of the Zeng state, a vassal state during the Zhou dynasty, making them of “great historical value” for scholarly research, said Yang Yi, a deputy researcher from Xiangyang Museum.
Smuggling of cultural relics is a serious problem in China, with the authorities reporting more than 5,900 solved cases and more than 100,000 pieces recovered between September 2020 and June 2023. A national campaign to crack down on cultural relics smuggling has been extended to 2025.
Under China’s criminal law, illegal selling of cultural relics can result in up to 10 years imprisonment, while illegal excavation of important cultural sites or ancient tombs can lead to life imprisonment.
Xiangyang, located in a strategic location in the middle basin of the Han River, was the site of several military battles in ancient times, leaving behind a large number of precious relics. Xiangyang Museum stores over 67,000 cultural relics, including what is now 122 grade-one relics.
(Header image: The stolen cultural relics on display in Xiangyang, Hubei province, Jan. 23, 2024. From @央视新闻 on Weibo）