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On the Preservation of Global Cultural Heritage

by Blaire Zhang, IV Form

Artifacts are claimed, collected, and shown in museums all around the world in different regions. Over the course of history, however, looters have left many of them broken or lost and thus deprived their original cultures of essential elements that express culture and history. As I was touring in the cities of Spain and France this past summer, I was exposed for the first time to the incalculably large amount of artifacts there. I was especially dazzled by the Louvre: every section of the museum was labeled on the map perfectly with details and brief introductions. The Louvre allowed me to experience in magical ways what I could not experience back in my home country. However, it soon shook my nerves that there was an imbalance. I discovered that a considerable lot of Chinese artifacts has been claimed by the Louvre and displayed outside of China. While most European artifacts survived wars and now belong to where they came from, many of them from China did not.

In Paris, our tour guide told us an inspiring story of the German general Dietrich von Choltitz, “savior of Paris” as she phrased it. von Choltitz was ordered by Hitler to bomb the city of Paris at the time, but instead he simply chose to surrender it to his opponent (Trueman). He chose to betray the order to do what he as a person believed moral and wise. What he didn’t know at that time was that his brave action went beyond just saving Paris; he preserved the many hidden artifacts and treasures that we see in the Louvre today.

Wherever these artifacts end up in the world, there have always been people like von Choltitz, a small army of them, who try painstakingly to protect them so that they could be passed down and be well-preserved. They are the true heroes and guardians of cultural heritage, and they deserve to be revered. On the other hand, it is embarrassing and disgraceful to see any invaluable relics end up in the hands of those who are only concerned with their own benefits.

China and Egypt are both home to a myriad of invaluable historical sites, but they are also great victims of plundering and looting. Yuanmingyuan, the Beijing Summer Palace, was burnt by British troops during war in the Qing Dynasty and very few pieces are left (Melvin). Unlike China, the problem for Egypt rose more recently when political chaos has made Egypt vulnerable to the looters (Sussman). On January 28, 2011, looters raided the Museum of Egyptian Artifacts, resulting in 1,050 out of 1,089 artifacts stolen (Williams).

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Yuanminguyan: from the negatives of German Ernest Ohlmer in 1873, 13 years after it burned.

Source: CRIEnglish.com http://english.cri.cn/7146/2010/08/04/164s586655.htm

When I came home and delved into the looting of Yuanmingyuan a bit more, I realized that mentioning it in conversations is sensitive and even embarrassing for people like my parents, who are closer to that period of history. What I sensed through their complicated explanations was a loss of rightful pride – something that could never be amended. We all feel a personal connection with the past, and it would be heartbreaking for anyone to see that connection being destroyed. The looting of Yuanmingyuan and of the Museum of Egyptian Artifacts should be reminders to the world that such travesties cannot happen again.

For the preservation of Chinese cultural heritage, concerted efforts have been made to reclaim artifacts gathered by foreign countries. The 12 Zodiac animal heads, important legacies of the Yuanmingyuan, ended up in European countries that made allies in the Opium War against China (BKCreative). Although these bronze heads originally belonged to China, rising Chinese billionaires had to buy them back at huge expenses in foreign auctions (BKCreative). While ostensibly many lost Chinese artifacts are safely returned to their motherland, they seem to bring back, as well, the memory of a period of history that the Chinese people often associate with shame (Jacobs).

Although happening at a rather slow progress, an attempt to promote the idea of protecting artifacts is underway. Non-profit organizations are striving to make the idea more familiar to the public through talks and conferences. By communicating directly with the audience, prospective speakers can wipe out what was once ignorance and encourage people to follow in their footsteps. As concerned global citizens, we can lend a helping hand by paying more attention to these professionals, considering the issue with our best judgment, and spreading it in our communities.

In the near future, each one of us will be eager to tell an interesting story of the history of his or her country and feel fortunate to have one of the oldest continuing cultures in human history. Nonetheless, this will not be made possible without a compelling tool such as artifacts to augment the tales.

Blaire (Ninglin) Zhang, IV Form, is from Shenzhen, China and lives in Gaccon. She plays squash, has a passion for music, and loves to travel.

 Works Cited

BKCreative. “The Search for the 12 Missing Chinese Zodiac Antiquities of  China.”HubPages. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Sept.    2013.

Jacobs, Andrew. “Uneasy Engagement – Chinese Team Searches Museums for Art Treasures – Series – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World  News & Multimedia. Nytimes.com, 16 Dec. 2009. Web. 23 Sept. 2013.

Melvin, Sheila. “China Remembers a Vast Crime – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times   – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. Nytimes.com, 21 Oct. 2010. Web. 21 Sept. 2013.

Sussman, Paul. “The battle for Egypt’s past – CNN.com.” CNN.com – Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News. N.p., 31 Jan. 2011. Web. 20 Sept. 2013.

Trueman, Chris. “General Dietrich Von Choltitz.” Historylearningsite.co.uk. ©2000-2013

HistoryLearningSite.co.uk, n.d.

Williams, A.R. , Photograph By Roger Anis, El. “Pictures: Looters Shatter Museum of Ancient Egyptian Treasures.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 23 Aug. 2013. Web. 22 Sept. 2013.

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