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Global Times: New Yinxu Museum awaits Shang Dynasty artifacts lost overseas

2024/3/4 14:19:37

BEIJING, March 4, 2024 /PRNewswire/ -- "Dignified and Majestic" - this is the most common feedback I heard during the opening day of the new building of the Yinxu Museum. The square, bronze-colored building exuded a commanding presence under the sunlight, while inside, 3,000 artifacts were displayed to the public for the first time, offering visitors a feast for the eyes.

The Yinxu Ruins and oracle bones have undoubtedly become the calling card of Anyang in Central China's Henan Province. Despite the opening falling on a Monday, visitors flocked in from all directions. Among them were proud locals from Anyang, marveling at the greatness of Shang Dynasty (c.1600BC-1046BC) civilization on their native soil. There were also visitors from other parts of China, feeling proud of the cultural heritage.

Standing in front of the bronze ware exhibition hall, they carefully admired the exquisite wares, seemingly able to offer professional insight into the intricate patterns adorning the artifacts. Some visitors even took notes diligently, recording the newly exhibited artifacts.

A lady in her 50s shared with me that she wasn't a specialist in artifacts but was merely passionate about them, enthusiastically detailing her observations on the bronze ware from the tomb of Fu Hao, the wife of Shang Dynasty king Wu Ding. Her eyes filled with admiration for the ancient figure.

However, as I ascended to the third floor and entered the exhibition hall on Shang civilization studies around the world, the atmosphere seemed to shift to a more solemn tone. The hall meticulously documented the precious artifacts from the Shang period, such as bronze wares and oracle bones, lost overseas. One particular exhibit title, "How are you doing overseas?" struck a chord, showcasing museums abroad that house relics from the Shang Dynasty, with the British Museum taking the spotlight. According to the exhibit, the British Museum currently holds 800 artifacts from the Shang Dynasty, with the bronze double-ram wine vessel, a prized possession, prominently displayed in one of its halls.

The exhibition also noted that the US, UK, France, Germany, Canada, and Japan are the main locations where Chinese Shang artifacts are located overseas, including bronze wares, jade wares, pottery wares, and oracle bones. The precise data on the overseas dispersion of oracle bones is particularly poignant, with records indicating 3,377 pieces are in the UK, 1,882 in the US, and 1,276 in Japan.

Many visitors paused at the explanation of the quantity and routes of the dispersion of Shang artifacts overseas, earnestly trying to understand how these treasures were lost to foreign museums, art galleries, libraries, and universities through a complex web of reasons involving looters. After witnessing this, many expressed regret and sorrow for the lost artifacts.

Due to historical and legal issues, it is very difficult to retrieve many lost artifacts. A teen visitor, after touring this section of the exhibition, told me that the display taught him the historical lesson of "falling behind leads to suffering," and that these lost artifacts abroad will continue to serve as a warning to the Chinese people. The road to repatriating lost artifacts is fraught with difficulties. While being showcased and appreciated overseas, these lost artifacts also serve to spread Chinese culture and history to some extent. However, for the Chinese, this serves more as a painful reminder.

One of the exhibition planners involved in designing the exhibition, Tang Jigen, told me that the looters and collectors of artifacts from that era are long gone, yet the artifacts lost overseas remain far away. Confronting the reality of national treasures residing abroad, he said that contemplating how to utilize these lost artifacts to serve the Chinese people is the most meaningful endeavor at present.

For instance, collaborating with overseas collectors for research and joint exhibitions, facilitating mutual loans between Chinese and foreign museums, and exchanging duplicate collections, are all options. The advancement of digital technology also provides new possibilities, with 3D printing and virtual reality technology being applied in the field of archaeology and cultural heritage, enabling us to more conveniently study, exhibit, and appreciate artifacts from across the globe.

Toward the end of the exhibition hall, sculptures of Fu Hao were juxtaposed with contemporary sculptures from the time of Pharaoh Ramses II of Egypt, seemingly engaging in a dialogue of ancient civilizations.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.

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