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Accountability to protect antiquities

Updated: Mar 14,2018 6:59 AM     China Daily

Luo Shugang, minister of culture, speaks with reporters about protecting historical artifacts on the sidelines of the annual session of the 13th National People’s Congress in Beijing on March 13.[Photo/Xinhua]

Crucial work has been done to safeguard China’s cultural treasures, and more responsibilities are being placed on the government’s shoulders, a senior official said on March 13.

“More efforts will be made to hold officials accountable (when accidents happen),” Luo Shugang, minister of culture, said in Beijing during the two sessions.

Last year, a pair of stone candelabra found in a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) emperor’s tomb was stolen in Beijing, but local officials covered up the theft for months. After the artifacts were traced, 17 administrators, including six department heads, were disciplined for the incident.

Twelve officials in Hebei province were also held responsible in 2016 after an illegal real estate development was started near the Eastern Qing Tombs, which date back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Both locations are part of the Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, an inscribed UNESCO World Heritage site.

Fires resulting in damage to six key cultural heritage sites under State protection also led to 23 officials receiving punishments in 2017, according to culture authorities.

Luo said China recently established an accountability system to clarify who is responsible for protecting each of the country’s 767,000 registered “unmovable” cultural heritage sites, such as structures and monuments.

China has prevented several major crimes involving cultural relics, Luo said. For example, he said, the Ministry of Public Security released most-wanted lists twice last year specifically to strike at such crimes. It led to the capture of 16 of the 20 suspects in the list.

“Protection of cultural relics has many more legal references now,” the minister said. However, to implement the laws that safeguard cultural relics, it is essential to conduct an archaeological investigation before any major infrastructure construction begins, he added.

Luo said having a clear understanding of cultural resources is one way to better protect the nation’s heritage. Consequently, the Culture Ministry has organized several nationwide surveys in the past five years.

The surveys found that 108 million cultural relics are housed in public museums and other State-owned institutions. More than 870,000 intangible cultural heritage items were also registered, Luo said.

He called for better protection of intangible cultural heritage, and said it should be promoted among the public in creative ways to enrich people’s cultural lives.

Luo cited the third season of A Bite of China, which was broadcast recently by China Central Television, as a show that promotes culinary culture.

A type of iron pan made through traditional craftsmanship sold out almost immediately after being featured in one episode of the latest season.

“We need more ways to keep such heritage items alive and let them improve people’s livelihoods,” Luo said.