Why is Singapore part of the Sinosphere

The Case for Repatriating China’s Cultural Objects

2016 | book

about this book

This book investigates China's demands for the repatriation of Chinese cultural relics 'lost' during the country's modern history. It addresses two main research questions: Can the original owners, or their rightful successors, of cultural objects looted, stolen, or illicitly exported before the adoption of the 1954 Hague Convention and the 1970 UNESCO Convention reclaim their cultural objects pursuant to remedies provided by international or national law? And what are the philosphical, ethical, and cultural considerations of identity underlying the international conventions protecting cultural objects and claims made for repatriating them? The first part of the book explores current positive legal regimes, while the second part focuses on the philosophical, ethical, and cultural considerations regarding repatriation of cultural objects. Consisting of seven chapters and an introduction, it outlines the loss of Chinese cultural relics in modern history and the normative framework for the protection of cultural heritage. It presents case studies designed to assess the possibility of seeking legal remedies for restitution under contemporary legal regimes and examines the cultural and ethical issues underpinning the international conventions protecting cultural heritage and claims for the repatriation of cultural heritage. It also discusses issues of cultural identity, the right to cultural identity and heritage, multiculturalism, the politics of recognition, cosmopolitanism, the right to cultural heritage, and other related issues. The concluding chapter answers the two research questions and offers suggestions for future research.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. The Loss of Cultural Relics in Modern Chinese History

China’s long history has yielded an abundance of cultural relics. Unfortunately, since the mid-nineteenth century, many Chinese cultural relics have been destroyed or removed from China by various means. The term 'lost cultural relics' refers to Chinese cultural objects looted, stolen, clandestinely excavated or illegally trafficked between 1840 and 1949. Although there are no definitive totals of the lost Chinese cultural relics, the Chinese Society of Cultural Relics estimates more than ten million pieces of invaluable Chinese cultural objects have 'sunk into oblivion' in Europe, the United States, Japan, and Southeast Asian nations since the First Opium War.

Chapter 2. Law and Ethics Protecting Cultural Objects

This chapter discusses the legal and ethical frameworks intended to protect and regulate rights in cultural objects. Positing that because international threats to cultural objects originate from two different sources, James Nafziger argues there are two distinct legal frameworks intended to protect and preserve right in cultural objects.

Chapter 3. Restitution Through International Adjudication: Looted Cultural Objects Case Studies

This chapter assesses the viability of seeking restitution of cultural objects in international legal tribunals. Although in theory because it is the only global and permanent court of general subject matter jurisdiction the ICJ should be the leading international legal forum, in practice the ICJ has rarely had an opportunity to address questions of cultural property.

Chapter 4. Restitution Through Civil Litigation: A Case Study of the Dunhuang Manuscripts

Although all legal systems recognize the wrongfulness of theft, in practice, claims upon stolen property may be defeated by countervailing policies protecting bona fide purchasers or by rules applying a concept of "theft" which is less inclusive than that of the victimized state. Jurisdictions differ in allocating rights and obligations between bona fide purchasers and victims of theft. In general, civil law systems favor good-faith possessors insofar as a bona fide purchaser may obtain valid title even from a thief and exercising due diligence provides strong evidence of an acquisition in good faith.

Chapter 5. Cultural Identity: The Politics of Recognition

Today it is universally accepted that looted / stolen cultural objects should be restituted to their rightful owners. However, the rules protecting cultural are regulated in detail only since the 1954 Hague Convention and the 1970 UNESCO Convention have been adopted, but these conventions are of no retroactive effect to cultural objects that were looted or stolen before the entry into force of these conventions.

Chapter 6. Why Lost Cultural Relics Matter in China

I have described interconnections between cultural objects and cultural identity in Chap. 5. In this chapter, I seek to figure out Chinese perceptions of their loss of cultural relics in modern Chinese history. 'Chinese culture', dealt with in this chapter, refers to culture in 'China proper' (or 'Inner China', 'agrarian China'), which is termed the 'Chinese cultural sphere', the 'Sinic world', or the 'Sinosphere'.

Chapter 7. Conclusions and Recommendations

This book sets out to explore legal, cultural and ethical issues concerning repatriation of cultural objects to countries of origin or cultural groups by looking into the repatriation claims of China. The analysis of the previous chapters manifests that repatriation of cultural objects is an extremely difficult and complicated issue.


additional Information
The Case for Repatriating China’s Cultural Objects
publishing company
Springer Singapore
Print ISBN
Electronic ISBN

premium partner

Photo credits
Pluta Logo / © Pluta, Rombach Attorneys at Law / © Rombach Attorneys at Law