Museums and the Protection of Cultural Relics

China, home to one of the world's most ancient civilizations, abounds in cultural relics, from ancient tombs and mausoleums, ancient architecture, grottoes and stone carvings to revolutionary sites and memorials to valuable ancient art works, handicrafts, historical documents, and books. During a period lasting more than a hundred years before 1949, a large number of precious cultural relics were stolen and taken out of the country. Much ancient architecture was damaged or even destroyed by the forces of nature and man, and many ancient tombs and mausoleums near Luoyang and Xi'an were looted. After 1949, China promulgated the "Order Prohibiting the Export of Valuable Cultural Relics" and issued a series of directives and measures toward collecting revolutionary cultural relics, protecting ancient architecture and archeological excavations. Departments in charge of the administration and protection of cultural relics were set up at the central and local levels. At the end of 1982, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress published the "Law on the Protection of Cultural Artifacts, Sites and Art Objects." The law contains clear-cut provisions on the designation of historical sites and monuments for protection, on punishments for damage to cultural relics, the export of artifacts and art objects, and archeological excavation.

Important artifacts, sites and art objects are protected at different major administrative levels according to their value, e.g. historical monuments and cultural relics under protection at the state level, those under protection at the provincial or equivalent level, and those under protection at the county (or city) level. Cities of historical or revolutionary importance are designated historic cities by the state. Currently, China has more than 500 historical monuments and cultural relics under state protection, including the Tiananmen Gate in Beijing; Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Gansu; the Badaling section of the Great Wall in Beijing; the Potala Palace in Lhasa; the "Peking Man" archeological site at Zhoukoudian in Beijing; Qufu, the former capital city of the ancient state of Lu in Shandong; the Yellow Emperor's mausoleum at Huangling in Shaanxi; and Emperor Qin Shi Huang's mausoleum in Lintong, Shaanxi. More than 5,000 treasures are protected at the provincial or equivalent level and more than 10,000 historical monuments and cultural relics are protected at the county or equivalent level. In addition 99 cities have been designated historic cities.

China's profusion of historical monuments and cultural relics has stimulated the development of its museums. By the end of 1995, China had increased its museums from 21 in 1949 to 1,194. Some of China's museums are particularly famous. The Palace Museum, located in the heart of Beijing, is the largest and oldest national museum in China. It specializes in the preservation, study and exhibition of the Ming and Qing imperial palace and the palace treasures and other traditional arts and crafts collected therein. The Museum of Chinese History, located in Beijing, on the east side of Tiananmen Square, provides a general survey of Chinese history from ancient to modern times. The museum collects and preserves historical materials, holds exhibitions and engages in research. The Museum of Qin Shi Huang's Buried Legions, on the east side of the Qin emperor's mausoleum in Lintong County, Shaanxi, is the largest display of ancient military arts in China. More than 1,000 lifelike terracotta figurines of warriors and horses, each with its own individualized features and vivid expression, remain today as evidence of the skills of ancient artisans. The Hemudu Archeological Site Museum, located in Hemudu Town, Yuyao County, in Zhejiang offers a vast array of highly prized Neolithic artifacts, including ivory carvings, lacquerware and pottery. The museum building itself is in the shape of a bird with outspread wings, in an echo of the Hemudu culture's worship of an avian totem, a celebration of South China's prehistoric civilization of 7,000 years ago.

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