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China to tighten supervision of relic market

The State Administration of Cultural Heritage plans to tighten its supervision over auctions of cultural relics, with the examination of auction items to be specially addressed, the administration said.

Eight categories of relics, including those from stealing, tomb-raiding, and smuggling, and pieces looted out of China illegally in the past, will be banned from auction, the notice said.

In addition, auction items’ designated names won’t be permitted to be changed without authorization, and key words like "rare", "only" and "national treasure" will be banned in their introductions.

Song Xinchao, deputy head of the administration, told a news conference on Thursday that the move is a response to problems in the relic auction market in recent years.

"Relic collection is getting popular in recent years. More and more people, as well as a large amount of money, are involved. However, some serious problems have also shown up, which will affect the long-term development of the market," Song said.

The administration also clarified the responsibilities and possible punishment of auction professionals who make false verifications.

The practice of auctioning fake items while knowing they are fake is common with some companies, Song said.

"In the past, no laws and examination procedures gave specific requirement for the auction items, which had caused some companies to auction fake items purposefully. Meanwhile, heritage regulators didn’t regard regulating fake items a part of their responsibility," Song said.

The administration emphasized that the auction items’ examination reports should include opinions of the auction companies’ verifiers, and those who make false verifications will be punished.

China currently doesn’t have a qualification management system for relic verifiers, and relic verification has long lacked effective administration, Song said.

"Cases involving verifiers who abused their positions for profits and making false verifications to mislead collectors were not rare," Song said. "In the future, verifiers must provide relevant evidence and sign their names when they tag the item, for example, a Tang Dynasty piece" from AD 618-907.

In addition, the administration has jointly issued a notice with the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television to strengthen the regulation of TV programs themed on relic verification.

Song said China has more than 20 such programs, and some of them focus so much on the commercial value of the relics that they are promoting the wrong idea about investment and collection. Even some illegal items have appeared in these programs.

The notice requires all TV channels to review their contents. In addition to scientifically demonstrating the verification methods, the programs are urged to clarify the risks of collecting relics as an investment and assess the relics’ value objectively by referring to the market.

"They should promote the right values by helping audiences appreciate the cultural value of the relics, instead of emphasizing their prices and getting rich overnight," Song said.