China experts to search abroad for looted relics: state media

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China will send a team of experts to museums around the world in an effort to record more than a million cultural relics it says were looted from Beijing's Old Summer Palace, state press reported Monday.

Museums, libraries and private collections in the United States, Britain, France and Japan will be the primary targets, the China Daily reported, citing the director of Beijing's Yuanmingyuan, or Old Summer Palace.

British and French armies burned and pillaged the Yuanmingyuan in 1860, an episode viewed in China as one of the nation's greatest humiliations.

"We don't really know how many relics have been plundered since the catalogue of the treasures stored in the garden was burned during the catastrophe," the paper quoted palace director Chen Mingjie as saying.

"But based on our rough calculations, about 1.5 million relics are housed in more than 2,000 museums in 47 countries."

The visits, which are expected to include the British Museum and the Fontainebleau Art Museum in France, aim to build a data base, not retrieve the artefacts, Chen said.

According to the Chinese Cultural Relics Association, up to 10 million cultural relics were taken from China between 1840 and the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949, the paper said.

China has objected strongly in recent years to overseas auctions of relics previously looted from the palace.

In February, a Chinese collector sabotaged a Paris auction of two bronze statues looted from the Yuanmingyuan by submitting a winning bid of 15.7 million euros (20.3 million dollars) for each relic but later refusing to pay.

Chinese museums and collectors have previously sought the return of the relics through diplomatic means or attending international auctions.