About This Project

Historical Background

Yuanmingyuan Park (The Old Summer Palace) in Beijing was the main imperial residence for the Kangxi Emperor in the Qing Dynasty. It covers an area of more than 3.5 sq km (1.3 sq mi), with extensive collections of arts and historical treasures and elegant architecture (Quan, 2022). As one of the most magnificent imperial gardens in Chinese history, it was renowned throughout the world. 

The Old Summer Palace. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Summer_Palace

However, during the Second Opium war in 1860, the invading Anglo-French Forces sacked and looted the palace. Four thousand looters spent three days razing the palace into the ground, and a large number of valuable cultural relics were taken overseas (Yang et al., 2020). Victor Hugo described the barbaric crime in his Expédition de Chine, hoping that France would return those relics one day.  In 1900, the Eight-Nation Alliance (the United States, Britain, Germany, Japan, Russia, France, Italy, and Austria-Hungary) invaded and occupied Beijing. They devastated Yuanmingyuan again and looted the remaining treasures.

According to UNESCO’s estimation in 2006, about 1.6 million Chinese relics were in the possession of 47 museums worldwide, including 1 million from the Old Summer Palace (张行健, 2017). In 2015, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimated that about 130 million Chinese cultural relics are in UK museums and libraries, mostly taken illegally during the colonial period of the Qing Dynasty (Xu, 2015). As for the United States, the majority of Chinese historic relics there were obtained illegally by stealing and smuggling overseas. For example, from 1985 to 2015, about 2.3 million Chinese treasures were transported there and many were collected by museums.


We are interested in figuring out the specific origins of Chinese cultural relics that nowadays end up in Western Museums as it has been shocking to see many of them in these museums far away from the origin of Chinese culture. Therefore, we collected data from three world-famous museums: The British Museum in London, The Cleveland Museum in Ohio, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Our goal is to create a presentation of the summary of how many relics from each dynasty have been taken by those museums. In addition, we know that there must be some illegal art dealers that transported artifacts from China to Western museums and are curious to find out who they are.

C. T. Loo.
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._T._Loo

For example, C. T. Loo was notoriously known as a controversial art dealer of Chinese origin who illegally exported a large amount of significant state cultural relics from China. He was one of the most important dealers of Chinese art and artifacts for the first half of the twentieth century.