Beijing confirms plans to extradite entire British Museum collection to China for “safe keeping” if country elects Conservative led government for another term
Rebecca Kahn & Laura Kate Gibson
Speaking at a special press conference on Monday evening, Shi Dawei, Director of the China Art Museum, Shanghai, confirmed rumours that the Chinese government has in place a detailed plan to seize more than 8 million objects from the British Museum, should the Tories take power for another term. The move comes as a response to dismal figures released in England’s latest Art Index, but sources close to Beijing suspect this plan has been in the pipeline for some time.
“The Arts in Britain are living on borrowed time,” said Mr Shi Dawei. “Under the present Conservative government, overall public funding for the arts in England has fallen further and faster than any time in history. Clearly the British do not value culture and heritage as we do.”
Standing 63 metres tall with 166,000 square metres of floor space, the China Art Museum is Asia’s largest museum. The museum, which occupies the former Expo 2010 China Pavilion, currently uses only the top few floors of the building, leaving plenty of space to display and store objects currently housed at London’s British Museum.
Shi Dawei told reporters: “The Trustees of the China Art Museum will hold them not only for the Chinese people, but for the benefit of the world public, present and future. The Trustees have a legal and moral responsibility to preserve and maintain all the collections in their care, to treat them as inalienable and to make them accessible to world audiences.”
Asked if he wished to reword this statement that almost directly quotes- without acknowledging – the British Museum’s recent letter to UNESCO rejecting their offer to mediate the Parthenon Marbles dispute, Shi Dawei dismissed concerns over intellectual property theft with a wave of his (fake) Cartier watch.
He was also quick to reject proposals that China Art Museum should change its name if it acquired a collection that ostensibly includes items from across the world. Shi Dawei’s logic was flawless: “The British never removed the British part from their title; why should we remove China?”
Gazing across the Huangpu River towards The Bund, initially a British Settlement whose skyline echoes that of Liverpool, Shi Dawei mused on the comprehensive nature of the British Museum’s collection: “There is an interesting absence of discrimination in Britain’s rapacious plundering. They stole from everyone, regardless of race, colour, ethnicity. An equal opportunity of thievery, if you will.”
Luo Shugang, Ministry of Culture for the People’s Republic of China, seemed almost as excited about the British Museum’s labels and information panels as he was about the collection: “We were worried that we might have to rewrite labels for all the items we anticipate acquiring. But our research over the past months has concluded that the British Museum’s lexicon is surprisingly similar to our own.” Mr Luo Shugang was particularly impressed by the British Museum referring to the savage massacre of civilians when British troops stole the Benin Bronzes as, “a punitive expedition”. “It is not so different from our 4 June incident,” he said.
Shi Dawei refused to confirm how long China planned to keep the collection safe after it had been moved to Shanghai. He did state that China Art Museum might consider repatriating digital versions of the originals back to the British Museum. “But,” he added, “China would of course keep the copyrights.”
At this stage, Beijing has no intention of releasing details about how exactly it will execute the top secret plan. In a rare moment of joviality, Luo Shugang wished Western hackers the “best of Chinese luck” trying to penetrate that firewall.
Neil McGregor, outgoing Director of the British Museum, was unavailable for comment but a press aide suggested that security at the museum might be “beefed up” with extra numbers of corgi dogs on 7 May, “just in case”.
Rebecca Kahn & Laura Gibson
Berlin & London
P.S. Just in case we didn’t make our tone sufficiently satirical, we should point out that nobody mentioned in this post ACTUALLY said these things, even though we suspect they may be thinking them…
“China Art Museum, Shanghai” by DavidXiaoDaShan – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:China_Art_Museum,_Shanghai.jpg#/media/File:China_Art_Museum,_Shanghai.jpg
“British Museum from NE 2” by Ham – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:British_Museum_from_NE_2.JPG#/media/File:British_Museum_from_NE_2.JPG