– by Shenali D Waduge –
Off went Cameron to China in a huff thinking that Britain’s help was needed to prop up rising China’s economy. Lesson Cameron learnt humiliatingly was China is a great power Britain now is not. It was certainly no meeting of equals. If Cameron huffed and puffed in Colombo he certainly ended up groveling before China yet to no avail. If that was not enough to take back home China has demanded the return of priceless artefacts looted from Beijing in the 19th century. Now that China has set the ball rolling is now time all former colonies start forwarding their lists and seek repatriation and reparations too.
The tables have certainly turned. Decades back you will never imagine Western leaders bending before Asia’s giants we are now facing a total new ball game. Human Rights accusations from London end up voiceless landing in Beijing. Ban on British journalists go nothing beyond attempts to diplomatically solve matters. But China has made very clear who the boss is.
China Centre for International Economic Exchanges headed by former Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan had just one question for the visiting British premier ‘when will Britain return the illegally plundered artefacts’ – 23,000 items that British army looted. If a British officer wrote in the 19th century ‘you can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the places we burnt. It made one’s heart sore to burn them’ – if it made a British soldier’s heart burn, Britain should imagine the heart ache it had given to 90% of the world it once ruled over. China made public its intention to demand the return of looted treasures in 2009 when it sent missions to museums in Britain and France to inspect 1.5million artefacts stolen during the Opium Wars.
Britain has rejected requests by countries to return artefacts that adorn the British Museum (ART REPATRIATION)
95% of the artifacts in the British Museum are stolen and vandalized objects , and not gifts or given for safe keeping as the British would have us believe. Don’t the English have artifacts of their own culture and own history that they can show in museums without having to steal and show case others?
The same British government has made a huge fuss about returning art and treasures stolen by the Nazis during the second world war. But they will not practice what they preach.
Some of the priceless artefacts unlikely to be returned are:
- Elgin Marbles – classical Greek marble sculptures that Athens has long demanded be given back.
- 105-carat Koh-i-Noor diamond – placed on the Crown Jewels was taken from India in 1850 Britain rules out returning to India – “I’m afraid it’s staying put.” is what Cameron said to India.
- Britain also refuses to return the Sultanganj Buddha, Amravati railings, a series of limestone carvings dating back to 100 AD, Saraswati idol, a sculpture of the deity from the Bhoj temple to India
- Britain will also not return oldest and most pricess piece in the entire British museum — a 9000 year old Apsara carving ( Emperor Vikramaditya). The vedic civilisation is the worlds first civilisation. It flourished on the banks of the river Saraswati from 9000 BC to 4000 BC,
- 11 wooden tablets – Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the most important of the 500 or so priceless Magdala treasures looted by Britain from Ethiopia in 1868 are hidden in a room in the British Museum is debarred from even its director Neil MacGregor.
- Benin Bronzes, a collection of brass pieces from the royal palace in Benin City (modern Nigeria), cast during the 16th and 17th centuries, seized by British forces during the Punitive Expedition of 1897 and now housed in the British Museum;
- Ghana asks Britain to return looted treasures – www.modernghana.com/news/310930/1/when-will-britain-return-looted-golden-ghanaian-ar.html
- Ethiopian President demands Britain returns stolen treasures – http://www.nairaland.com/220238/ethiopia-asks-britain-return-stolen
History repeats itself.
If countries had their treasures looted during colonial rule there is nothing to be surprised of the widespread looting that took place in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk and other Iraqi cities following the fall of Saddam Hussain. The Iraqi National Museum was ransacked where 28 galleries with more than 171,000 irreplaceable artifacts, relics of past civilizations dating back 8000 years were wiped clean.
These included the Sacred Vase of Warka [ 3200 B.C.], the Mask of Warka [ 3100 B.C.], the Golden Harp of Ur [ 2500 B.C.], the Bassetki Statue [2250 B.C.], the twin copper Ninhursag Bulls [ca. 2475 B.C.]. Also stolen was a spectacular collection of more than 1,000 pieces of gold jewelry and precious stones from the eighth and ninth centuries B.C. that had been discovered between 1988 and 1990 by Iraqi archaeologist Muzahim Hussein Mahmud during his excavation of four royal tombs, and is considered by many to be one of the greatest archaeological finds. The museum’s entire card catalog was destroyed, making it impossible even to identify what has been lost.
The Mesopotamian civilisation along with the Vedic Indian civilisation is the oldest in the world– what was stolen , were all priceless– you can’t put a US dollar tag on it.
Nevertheless, some artefacts have been returned. In 2010 France returned to Nigeria 4 artefacts which were over 400 years old unlawfully taken during colonial rule. France has also returned to Egypt five artefacts from the Ptolemaic dynasty (300 BC) that were smuggled out of the country after the 2011 uprising.
In 2012, the British army did return to Afghanistan 843 individual objects dating back as far as the Bronze Age going back 4000 years. Among the most prized items are first-century AD furniture decorations known as the Begram Ivories and an important sculpture of Buddha from the second or third century AD, both stolen from Afghan museums during the 1992-94.
The prestigious New York Museum of Metropolitan of Art also returned 2 large statues to Cambodia
However, with China now demanding the return of all looted items it shows how China is appealing to nationalism to bolster its popularity and this is what Sri Lanka and other rising Third World nations need to also follow.
To sum up what China thought of Cameron and Britain, the editorial of the Chinese Government newspaper – Global Times declared that Great Britain “should acknowledge that the UK is not a big power” in the eyes of China and admit it is now “merely a country of old Europe suitable for tourism and overseas study, with a few decent football teams.” This was a slap to what Cameron said that his visit was one of “dialogue of mutual respect and understanding.”
Be that as it may with Mau Mau survivors being compensated, Africa tabulating its colonial crimes and 14 Caribbean nations filing cases against all former colonial rulers it is now Asia’s turn to turn the tables on the West for centuries of domination with public apology and reparations. The West always demanding nations to show justice, accountability and transparency should have no problem in owning up to its crimes both colonial and contemporary.