British Prime Minister David Cameron has not been having a very nice time during his official visit to China. John Ross was rather scathing ('David Cameron’s humiliation in Beijing', Dawn December 5, 2013). Among other problems, British officials set up a microblogging page on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter, inviting questions for the leader, saying he would aim to reply during the visit. It attracted more than 260,000 followers a few days later. Among other things, it was inundated with demands for the return of artefacts looted from Beijing in the 19th century.
One of the most popular questions was posted by a prominent Chinese think-tank, the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges, which is headed by former vice-premier Zeng Peiyan and includes of the country's government officials among its members. The organization posed the question 'When will Britain return the illegally plundered artefacts?' referring to 23,000 items in the British Museum which it says were looted by the British army. The British were part of the Eight-Nation Alliance that put down the Boxer Rebellion at the end of the 19th century, a popular uprising against the incursion of European imperial powers in China. To the Chinese, the ransacking of the Forbidden City, and the earlier destruction of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860 remain key symbols of how the country was once dominated by foreign powers.the article illustrates quite well how often the truth is casualty to accusations in such situations:
A spokesperson from the British Museum said: 'There is clearly a serious misunderstanding. There are around 23,000 objects in the Museum’s Chinese collection as a whole, the overwhelming majority of them peacefully traded or collected. 'Many indeed were made for export. Very few objects entered the collection, in the context of – even less as a result of – the Boxer Rebellion. 'The Museum has not received any official requests for the return of any objects to China.' [...] In 2009 calls for a Chinese delegation to be allowed access to the British Museum archives were reported. But the a spokesperson from the Museum confirmed that as yet, there has been no formal request from the Chinese government to return artefacts.Not like the Parthenon Marbles then?
'Return our looted treasures Chinese think-tank tells visiting UK PM', Daily Star, December 5, 2013
'Give us back our treasure': Chinese demand Cameron returns priceless artefacts looted during 19th century Boxer Rebellion' Daily Mail 4 December 2013